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Two-a-days are one hot topic with the Patriots

FOXBOROUGH -- NFL players aren't typically fond of two-a-days.

So one might assume the Patriots began training camp with morning and afternoon practices on consecutive days to draw the players' ire.

But coach Bill Belichick said the intent was to get camp started on the right foot, with the goal to improve the team with more on-the-field work and less classroom study.

Belichick often talks about smart players and smart teams, but after studying the 2005 Patriots -- a six-loss squad that was a division playoff round loser -- he thought the team needed to improve on its fundamentals.

``One of the things that I think is important for us this year is to become a better fundamental football team, to do the little things better and more consistently than maybe what we did them at times last year and in the past," Belichick said yesterday morning before the Patriots practiced at Gillette Stadium.

``So we can sit around and say `fundamentals, fundamentals' and write it up on the blackboard and all that, but you really can't get any better at it unless you go out there and do it on a repetitive basis. So we're saying that if we want to be a better fundamental team, then we're going to put a little more time into it on the field and stress it more.

``Hopefully, that will result in being a better fundamental team. That's one of the things we want to do in this camp, improve the fundamentals and techniques."

The Patriots haven't scheduled regular back-to-back two-a-days since they moved camp from Bryant University to Gillette Stadium in 2003.

This year, New England has five sets of back-to-back two-a-days on its camp schedule. After the two practices today (9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) and tomorrow (8:45 a.m. and a 7 p.m. in-stadium workout in front of season ticket-holders), the Patriots will have had nine workouts in the first five days of camp.

``We just talked about it and decided to change it up this year," Belichick said. ``You only get so much time and you try to figure out what's the best way to be most productive. I think fundamentally we can use the time on the field to work on our fundamentals and basics. That's really where the emphasis is."

Change certainly is not anything the organization fears. Quite often, conventional NFL wisdom says one thing, while the Patriots do another.

In fact, Belichick has never done it before, but he said he is not opposed to entering the season with only two quarterbacks on the active roster.

Matt Cassel, a second-year player out of the University of Southern California who has played in only two NFL games, is almost certain to be Tom Brady's backup. Todd Mortensen and Corey Bramlet are competing to be the No. 3 quarterback.

But in an unusual twist, they may actually be competing with a linebacker or defensive back for a spot on the roster.

``Look, I'm not opposed to anything," Belichick said. ``I'm for doing what's best for the football team. If it's carry four quarterbacks, like we did in 2000, then we'll carry four quarterbacks. If it's carry seven offensive linemen, which we did at one point last year, then we'll carry seven offensive linemen. In one game we had 11 linebackers active for a game. That might be an NFL record.

``I'm for doing whatever is best for our football team. I'm not going to put any limits on that and say, `Well, we're never going to carry more than this or less than that.' We'll do whatever we think is best. That is the way it always will be. I'll reserve that right to do it. It may be unorthodox. It may be heavily criticized in the media, but I have to do what I think is best for the football team and that may or may not be what everybody else does. I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying it's what we think is best."

Should New England choose to go with only Brady and Cassel on the 53-man roster, it would keep a third quarterback on the practice squad. (Bramlet, a first-year player from Wyoming, seems to be a bit ahead of Mortensen at the moment.)

A few teams in the NFL went that route a year ago, most notably the Denver Broncos, the team that knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs.

``Denver is a good example of a team that only had two quarterbacks on the roster . . . a pretty good football team, a pretty good organization, a pretty smart coach," Belichick said.

The Patriots still could add a veteran reserve. Last year it was Doug Flutie, the year before it was Jim Miller.

Bramlet and Mortensen hope to show Belichick enough to earn the No. 3 spot.

``I know that's exactly the spot I'm looking for," Bramlet said.

Bramlet said days like yesterday, when Brady sat out practice, provide more of an opportunity to impress the coaching staff.

``You know you're not going to get a lot of reps, but you have to take advantage of the few you get," the undrafted rookie said. ``The best thing you can do is when Tom is taking the reps, mentally take them with him and try to simulate what he does when you get your chance."

Mortensen, who tried out for Detroit in 2005, chose to come to the Patriots because he felt he would have a decent chance to earn a position. He says his competition with Bramlet won't be ugly.

``As a group at the quarterback position, each one of us is trying to make the team better," he said. ``The best way we can do that is focus on what we can individually do to improve our own game and in your role, no matter what spot you are on the depth chart, help your teammates perform better, as well.

``In an NFL season, you never know what can happen and every guy on a roster better be ready."

Making the roster is the first step.

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