They're eager to make amends
Watson, Scott ready for action
FOXBOROUGH -- The two tight ends taken in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft barely got their rookie seasons under way before being sent to the sideline -- via the operating room -- for the remainder of the year.
Kellen Winslow Jr. of the Cleveland broke his leg and the Patriots' Benjamin Watson torn a knee ligament.
It appears Winslow will sit out the 2005 season as well, because of a motorcycle accident.
Patriots fans don't have to worry about Watson suffering a similar fate.
''I'm too scared to get on a motorcycle, so that's something you won't ever see from me," Watson said. ''I've seen what can happen to people, including Kellen. That is unfortunate."
While some might say Winslow brought about his misfortune, Watson's injury was football-related. Still, after managing a couple of receptions on the Patriots' first drive of the season (for 16 yards against Indianapolis), Watson spent the remainder of the year watching.
Similarly, fellow second-year pro Guss Scott spent his entire rookie season as an observer as the Patriots won the Super Bowl. After opening some eyes with his aggressive play at safety in training camp, Scott injured his left knee against Cincinnati in the team's second exhibition game.
Like Watson, Scott said he is excited about the team's passing camp this week, after recently being cleared by doctors to participate in on-the-field drills.
''It's been eight or nine months, and I feel like I haven't played in about three years," Scott said. ''It's been a long time. I have a lot of rust to get off. I'm just happy to be out there playing. Of course I'm anxious for the first game, but just putting on a helmet and going out there practicing feels good."
Clearance to go full speed is one thing, but actually returning to full speed is another.
''The trainers -- Jim [Whalen] and Joe [Van Allen] -- do a good job holding you back so you don't hurt yourself any more," said Watson, who missed a couple of games at the University of Georgia with an ankle sprain, but otherwise never had a serious injury before hurting his knee.
''All the guys that are injured are probably [able to do more] than they allow us to in practice, because they want to make sure we're comfortable playing football. In football you use so many different motions, you have to get yourself acclimated to it.
''I consider myself physically ready to go, but I missed a whole year, so mentally I'm still on a learning curve trying to learn the offense again and getting comfortable in the system."
It is a system that could be decidedly different if Watson brings to the table the skills the team envisioned in drafting him with the 32d pick a year ago.
With top-level speed for a tight end, Watson has the potential to be a favorite weapon in Tom Brady's arsenal, particularly since he can line up at H-back or be split out wide, bringing a new dimension to the Patriots' offense, even when lined up in two-tight-end sets with Daniel Graham.
If healthy, that is.
''Right now, I'm still considered to be in rehab; until I get to that first game," Watson said. ''The most important thing for me now is learning, getting my assignments down and getting my reads right. And getting comfortable playing football at that speed again."
''I'm anxious to get there, but I can't rush it, and I won't."
Scott, who had worked his way up the depth chart to likely be the Patriots' top reserve safety before getting hurt, said he has done his best not to rush things as well.
''It's really day to day with this kind of injury," he said. ''Some days you feel good, some days you don't. But I'm working my way back. It's early right now. I'm just trying to participate in as many drills as I can. Just being out there participating. The opportunity to do this is a big thing.
''It was difficult, but things happen. You have to take the punches.
Scott, who set a school record with 11 career forced fumbles at the University of Florida, should have the opportunity to quickly get back into the mix. Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson give the Patriots a top starting duo, but several young players will vie for playing time. The team does not want to resort to odd position changes, as it did a year ago.
Dexter Reid, drafted 18 picks after Scott, had his moments last season. The Patriots drafted James Sanders of Fresno State in the fourth round in April. Two veteran cornerbacks -- Duane Starks and Chad Scott -- have been added this offseason, along with draftee Ellis Hobbs (third round from Iowa State).
Coach Bill Belichick often says he doesn't believe a team can have too many quality athletes in the secondary.
''Competition makes you better, you don't want to be with an organization that's not doing that," Guss Scott said. ''You want to be around the best players and continue to win. Nobody likes to lose. It's something that keeps you on your toes and makes you work to get better every day.
''Every day at practice, for everybody, is serious. You win a lot of games now, preparing and getting ready for the season. The more you put in now, the easier camp is, and the more you get out of it down the road."
Scott broke the monotony of rehabbing by paying close attention to Harrison, perhaps the best safety in the NFL, and Wilson, an up-and-comer entering his third season.
''It was tough," said Scott. ''But at the same time, I got to watch a great team play and to learn a lot from Rodney and Eugene.
''And we won the Super Bowl, so you can't complain about that."
Watson and Scott both said they are excited about receiving Super Bowl rings, but look forward to earning their next piece of jewelry on the field.
''When you're on injured reserve, you're still a part of the team, and they make you feel as if you're part of the team, but you're still kind of separate from the team," Watson said. ''Because when you come in, you do rehab, and everybody else goes to practice. They worked on the weekends and we were off.
''We'll still get the hardware, the ring, but it'll mean something a little bit different to me, because I was hurt."