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ON FOOTBALL

Champs present new look

FOXBOROUGH -- It looked different. There was no denying that.

You didn't hear Charlie Weis's booming voice or roaring laugh resonating through the practice facility. You didn't see the usual hands-on, fatherly-type coaching of Romeo Crennel, and he was always good for a Rac Attack when things weren't going so well.

Nor did you see the ear-to-ear smile on Tedy Bruschi's face almost any day, even though as hard and as hot as training camp can be, Bruschi always seemed to enjoy the challenge.

You didn't see big No. 52, Ted Johnson, in the middle of the Patriots' defense, and No. 24 in the defensive backfield wasn't Ty Law. (The number is now worn by second-year safety Dexter Reid.)

You didn't see everyone on hand and happy. Certainly not Richard Seymour, willing to part with $6,000 per day for a holdout he hopes will end in a (dollar) sign of fairness.

During The Dynasty, there's been change, but never this much. Slowly, the core players are dwindling. The hope is the new ones -- the Chad Browns and Monty Beisels -- can catch whatever Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel caught when they joined The Dynasty. The Patriots hope young players such as Logan Mankins and Ben Watson can somehow ''get it" as quickly and efficiently as Tom Brady once did. If The Dynasty is to continue, that's what must happen.

For the average NFL team, this type of turnover would be a sign that the franchise was in transition. And it will be for the New England Patriots, but this isn't an average team. It's the team of gold, and with or without the aforementioned, the Patriots have depth above and beyond what most teams have.

There's a blueprint for winning that transcends the parts that come and go. Will it catch up to the Patriots? Maybe. But to see the new looks, the new faces, there are issues this team will have to overcome.

While he was stretching before practice yesterday, Brady looked around and said, ''Wow, there are a lot of new faces."

After the morning practice, Brady said, ''There's been quite a few changes and I don't know how we're going to do with them. I don't think anybody knows. I'm just going to do the best I can every day and whether Tedy is here or not, and obviously he's not, that's not going to affect the way I play. Ted or David Patten or Joe Andruzzi or Roman Phifer or Charlie even, you can sit here and make excuses that wow, we're really going to have a hard time. But you know what? Every team changes. Every team is different from year to year. But I've got to continue to grow and improve or I wouldn't be very happy about it."

Why would this transition be any different than in past seasons? After all, this is a team that played most of last season without its starting cornerbacks (Law and Tyrone Poole) and won with Randall Gay, Earthwind Moreland, and Troy Brown in the defensive backfield.

''I think a lot of times the expectation is for the position," Brady said. ''And not for the player. If Gay is going out there last year and playing Ty Law's position, he's not trying to play like Ty Law, but as the best cornerback for the New England Patriots. He's playing his position. He's playing like he's coached. That's why we've been able to substitute a lot of players because you might lose Ty. But Randall's got to go in there and play. Same thing that goes for linebacker. We lost Tedy and now the new linebacker has to go in there and play like Tedy. That's his position. Not that he has to go in there and be Tedy. Each player has to come in and play his role. I don't have to play left tackle. I don't have to play cornerback. Just play your position and trust the other guys will do their jobs."

Over the last four years there was never a guessing game as to who was calling the offensive plays, and yesterday Bill Belichick was his evasive self on all pertinent issues. There's been talk of quarterback coach Josh McDaniel taking a bigger role, or even Brady calling more of the plays.

''I think everyone will have a larger role," Brady said. ''I think Coach Belichick will have a larger role; the quarterback coach, Josh McDaniel, all of those guys. I'm not sure [who's calling the plays]. I'm sure Coach Belichick has a better idea about that than I do. In professional football the way it is now, it would be very, very hard to do that [a quarterback calling plays]. It's so much situational football now."

Change, change, everywhere change.

No bigger change than at linebacker, where Monty Beisel and Chad Brown will fill the roles of Johnson and Bruschi. Mike Vrabel, always a leader and one of the smartest players on the field, will see more inside linebacker duty, as he did in practice.

''I thought we had a good first day," Vrabel said. ''There's change. There's no doubt about that. The timing of everything I think makes it a little blown out of proportion. I mean Ted, he's been here 10 years, great player. But if all this had happened in March, I don't think it would have been a big deal. And it's not a big deal to us. We're going to play with two inside linebackers. We're going to play with a left end and we're playing with a right end. It just depends who we're doing it with."

Safety Rodney Harrison has been around big changes in the past. As a member of the San Diego Chargers (1994-2002), the team became so bad, Harrison was expendable.

''It's the transition in the National Football League," he said. ''The game is moving. Guys that were big contributors on teams are with different teams now. Coaches are going to get opportunities, players are going to get opportunities.

''But you understand that, especially if you've been around the game, and you understand there's a lot of movement when you have success and there's a lot of movement when you have failure. You just hope you don't lose too many guys that could devastate your entire season. We just have to work even harder to lose two or three guys like that. Core guys that not only just impact the field, but they all did such a great job in the locker room.

''You miss Ted Johnson coming in and seeing him in the weight room at 6:30 in the morning and Bruschi, you miss his smile and his presence, the smart things he always had to say and the advice he'd give you."

The Teds, Ty, and maybe even Seymour aren't walking through that door right now.

For most teams, that would mean wait until next year. But the Patriots aren't most teams.

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