Patriots add linebackers, defensive backs to lineup Print
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Sunday, 27 April 2008 13:28
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 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Rhymes with Vrabel. Might wind up replacing him, too.
New England selected Shawn Crable of Michigan in the third round of the NFL draft on Sunday - one of three linebackers the Patriots picked up over the weekend as they begin restocking the aging corps in the middle of their defense.
``We certainly wanted to get younger and faster on defense,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ``But I've been saying that for six years.''
The Patriots' linebackers were a strength of the team that won three Super Bowls in four years and came oh-so-close again last season. But Junior Seau is 39 and a free agent who could be heading for retirement; when the season starts, Tedy Bruschi will be 35, Mike Vrabel will be 33 and Adalius Thomas will be 31.
So Belichick is hoping their eventual replacements might come from the group added over the weekend. In addition to Crable, the Patriots picked Bo Ruud of Nebraska in the sixth round to go with Jerod Mayo, who was picked in the first round on Sunday.
They've also signed free agents T.J. Slaughter and Victor Hobson.
New England also drafted potential replacements for departing defensive backs Asante Samuel and Randall Gay, drafting Colorado cornerback Terrence Wheatley in the second round and defensive back Jonathan Wilhite from Auburn in the fourth.
``It's all about competition now,'' Belichick said. ``We'll put them out there and see how they play. The players who play the best will play the most.''
The Patriots' only pick on offense was quarterback Kevin O'Connell, a four-year captain at San Diego State. He holds the school record for rushing yards (1,312) and rushing touchdowns (19) by a quarterback; he also threw for 46 TDs, the fourth-best total in school history.
O'Connell could be groomed as the backup for Tom Brady if Matt Cassel, a seventh-round pick in 2005, doesn't develop in the final year of his contract. Third-stringer Matt Gutierrez made the roster as an undrafted free agent last season.
``That's the first thing I thought of, to tell you the truth to learn from the best of the best,'' O'Connell said. ``I've been watching him for a long time and studying the way he plays the game and carries himself and leads his teammates.''
Fifth-round pick Matthew Slater was announced as a wide receiver, but the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater is considered a prospect on special teams.
``That's kind of where I made my mark at UCLA, so I know that will be probably my primary focus right away,'' Slater said. ``Wherever they want to use me, I'm flexible, I don't mind, I'm just ready to work hard for this organization and continue to the great reputation they have around the league for being one of the best teams in the league.''
As the defending AFC champions, the Patriots didn't have a chance at a No. 1 overall player like Michigan's Jake Long. So they took a guy who practiced against him in college.
The 6-foot-5, 243-pound Crable had 28.5 tackles for a loss last season - second best in the country. Belichick said Crable plays a lot like current Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods, who also went to Michigan.
``He told me it's a nice program there,'' Crable said. ``It takes a lot of discipline (to play in it). They only ask you to do what you can do and ask you to do that well.''
Ruud's father, Tom, played five years in the NFL, and his brother Barrett is entering his third season with Tampa Bay. Belichick said the NFL pedigree could help both Slater and Ruud adapt quickly.
``I'm sure it's helpful,'' said Belichick, whose father, Steve, played for the Detroit Lions. ``There's things you learn and understand - sometimes it's by osmosis, other times it's just a lifestyle. I can relate to that.''

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