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Turning corner in safety adjustment

Wilson has tackled his latest challenge

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots coaches knew Eugene Wilson could cover. They knew he was instinctive. They knew he possessed those all-important "ball skills." They liked his versatility.

The only concern they had about moving the 5-foot-10-inch, 195-pound rookie cornerback to safety was his tackling. It's one thing to have help from the sideline. It's another to have to take down, say, a barreling running back in the open field.

So far, so good. Wilson will have to be at his best Monday night, though, against Denver's Clinton Portis, "a guy that if he gets in your secondary, the chances of him going all the way are good," coach Bill Belichick said. "He isn't a guy that's going to get run down. He's a guy, if he breaks out that far, an 8-yard run, he'll turn it into a 48-yard run."

Not if Wilson can help it.

"I've had to make more one-on-one tackles, saving big runs," said Wilson, whom the Patriots credit with 30 tackles this season -- 24 solo. "As opposed to on the corner, you usually have people coming from the inside. It's different tackles. Against Tennessee, old boy Eddie George broke through and I kind of got a swipe at him. He could have been gone. I got him down."

Wilson, who leads the team and all NFL rookies with three interceptions and could become the first rookie to lead the Patriots in picks since Maurice Hurst had five in 1989, has had to absorb a little more punishment than he'd been used to. Before Week 2 against Philadelphia, Wilson never had played safety.

"I've had a couple of dingers since I've been playing safety," he said. "Actually, I had one [against the Giants]. But you shake them off. First game I started, big ol' Chad Lewis [the Eagles tight end] came across the middle, I hit him, and my shoulder was numb for a few plays. You gotta get up and shake those off."

Plenty of questions

Joe Andruzzi (shoulder), Je'Rod Cherry (knee), Christian Fauria (knee), Ty Law (ankle, ribs), David Patten (knee), and Mike Vrabel (arm) are listed as questionable for Monday's game. Tom Brady (arm) and Richard Seymour (leg) are probable. Fauria and Law practiced yesterday after sitting out Wednesday. Cherry has not practiced since injuring his knee against the Redskins.

Ted Johnson and Ted Washington -- "The Teds," as they've come to be known -- are still out and aren't practicing as they recover from a broken left foot and leg, respectively. Both are running, and Washington could return to practice as early as next week. "It feels good," Johnson said. "[I'm] making progress. Like I told people, when you're injured, if you do something more than you did the day before, it's like a small miracle in your mind. I'm pleased with the progress."

Deep impression

Patten and Broncos quarterback Danny Kannel were teammates with the New York Giants from 1997-98, and Patten offered his scouting report. "I thought he was pretty good," he recalled. "He was accurate. I thought he could throw a good deep ball. As to why he fell off, I really don't know. That's the way it is sometimes. He was my quarterback, so he was great." . . . Speaking of great, it's not your imagination. Lately, Belichick has been tossing around superlatives more than usual, if that's possible. Tired of hearing it? He's tired of seeing it. "We've seen outstanding groups of skill players and we've seen outstanding groups of defensive linemen, or front sevens," he said. "All the way back to the beginning of the year. It's week after week, very good skill players, very good defensive lines or front sevens. Seems like I'm standing up there [in front of the team] saying the same thing every week. `We've really got to be physical on the offensive line, we're really going to be challenged by this.' They're sitting there saying, `Here we go again. Here's another best defensive line in the league, sixth week in a row.' " . . . Adam Vinatieri (12 field goals in 17 attempts) has fallen from fifth before the season (81.65 career percentage) to seventh (80.9) on the list of the most accurate kickers in league history.

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