Few teams in NFL history have taken the concept of team defense to the heights of the New England Patriots. Without any lock Hall of Fame defensive players, the Patriots have won three of the past four Super Bowls and created the blueprint on how to flourish in the salary cap era. They drafted wisely, rarely signed high-profile free agents and didn't suffer inflated egos or insubordination, no matter how talented the player. Just ask Lawyer Milloy.
Now comes their opportunity to win an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl, and they'll try doing it with a new defensive coordinator and without a pair of defensive anchors.
"I think this year's team is this year's team, and the challenges that they have to meet will be different from ones that any other team has had to meet," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said during a news conference at the start of training camp.
Gone is former defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who took over as coach of the Cleveland Browns. Gone are linebackers Tedy Bruschi for at least a season because of medical reasons and Ted Johnson for good to retirement. Another loss is former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who took the reins at Notre Dame.
If any team can overcome such significant departures, it's New England. Eric Mangini, 34, steps in for Crennel after distinguishing himself as defensive backs coach for five seasons. Belichick has not named a replacement for Weis, so don't discount the winningest coach (by percentage) in postseason history calling plays this season. As for Bruschi and Johnson, their capable replacements are Monty Beisel and Chad Brown.
"We're not defending anything. We're not repeating anything. We're just trying to put together some good practices and get a competitive football team out there to compete in a 16-game regular season schedule and to be ready for the opener against Oakland," Belichick said when asked about going for three straight NFL titles. "I'm respectful of what this organization has accomplished, what the previous Patriot teams have done and what that means in terms of the league and league history and all of that. But as we stand here right now, for our team downstairs, none of that really has any bearing on anything we do."
Tom Brady appears to be welcoming a new season with open arms."We're not defending anything," Coach Bill Belichick says of this year's team.