Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Replacement parts don't seem to fit

It's personnel -- guys like Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Joe Andruzzi, David Patten, Ted Washington, Roman Phifer, Corey Dillon, and umpteen other impact offseason acquisitions -- that has been the lifeblood of the Patriots' success. The perpetual reinventing of the roster is what vice president of player personnel director Scott Pioli has done so well.

He has two Executive of the Year awards to show for it.

But personnel isn't an exact science in the NFL. You might think a player fits perfectly with your scheme (case in point Vrabel, the poster child for Patriots player acquisition) but you just can't hit them all the time. Take 2002, when Steve Martin and Donald Hayes sounded like one giant ''Clang!" here.

And though the 2005 class has a ways to go, the first six games haven't left the impression that there's a difference-maker in the bunch. In the case of Chad Brown and Monty Beisel, well, let's just say Tedy Bruschi couldn't have timed his return any better.

You can't blame either guy totally for a lack of impact. Brown, according to one AFC personnel man, has been miscast as a sometime-inside linebacker with specific and sometimes very complicated responsibilities. ''He is not a 'Mike,' that much I know," said the personnel man. ''Chad's been a very good player in this league, but lately he's been injured a lot and has spent most of his time on the outside."

There's no doubt Ted Johnson's sudden retirement threw the Patriots for a loop, requiring Brown to play more inside than outside. The Patriots probably figured that since Phifer had made a seamless transition from outside to inside at the end of his career, Brown might be able to do likewise.

But you can't fit a square peg in a round hole.

The Patriots saw upside in Beisel, who is playing with a broken finger and who disclosed on The Score, a radio station in Providence, that he was in the hospital with an infection most of the week.

With Beisel, there's no reason to abandon hope. He caught the Patriots' eye a couple of years ago when they were viewing film on his Chiefs teammate, linebacker Mike Maslowski.

He is fast, with a high-running motor, but often overpursues. Seeing him in No. 52 makes you appreciate the guy who used to wear it, Johnson, a guy who can sympathize with Beisel about coming into a complicated system that throws a lot of information at you. Beisel also has to make the defensive calls.

In a perfect world, Bruschi will make Beisel and Brown better, but it's questionable whether they can truly replace Phifer and Johnson. It speaks volumes that Vrabel played the most inside linebacker of his professional career in Sunday's game at Denver.

Brown was honest in training camp when he acknowledged he was struggling to pick up the defense. It wasn't as bad as Hayes saying he couldn't learn the plays, then later revealing he had a learning disorder, but there are things teams must do homework on.

Asked about Brown making the outside/inside transition, coach Bill Belichick said, ''To me, it's more of on-the-line/off-the-line than inside/outside. He's played a lot of his career as an off-the-line linebacker, most of it in Seattle. As a matter of fact, he played on the line some at Pittsburgh, but he's mainly played off the line and that's primarily where he is playing for us.

''Are there some differences between what he did in Seattle and what he's doing here? Well, sure. Absolutely. There are differences in every defensive scheme. But moving from on-the-line to off-the-line I think is -- again, it depends on the player -- but for the most part that's a bigger adjustment.

''I think scheme-wise, assignments, and those kinds of things, I don't think that's been a major problem with Chad or Monty. I think it's keying it in the quickness with what you react to it. There may be a degree there that comes with experience and repetition and all of that. But in terms of fundamental assignments and all, I wouldn't say that's been a big problem."

The Patriots certainly were aware that linebacker was a position they needed to upgrade. But they drafted only one linebacker this year, Ryan Claridge of Nevada-Las Vegas in the fifth round. He was hurt in camp and placed on injured reserve. Right now, though, a more visible concern is cornerback Duane Starks, a 1998 No. 1 draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. There was one Ravens scout vociferously opposed to taking Starks because his ratio of good plays to bad was too close to make him a first-rounder. Baltimore released him in 2002, and he wasn't a favorite of coach Dennis Green in Arizona.

Starks has a world of potential, but he's a risk-taker; when he guesses right, he'll make big plays, but we saw the other side of it Sunday, when he gave up plays of 72 and 55 yards and was in coverage when Rod Smith caught a 6-yard touchdown pass.

Starks, according to the former Ravens scout, probably will rebound from that, but chances are his game will remain inconsistent. When you give up a third-round pick for an established player -- as the Patriots did for Starks -- you expect big things, but right now Starks's play has people wishing for Tyrone Poole's return. And Poole spends more time in the trainer's room than on the field. In the recent past, the Patriots have been able to pick up players who fit roles and helped win games in small ways. Larry Izzo and Don Davis are two prime examples.

But so far, the last offseason pickups haven't had that effect.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives