FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -The New England Patriots entered the offseason with a goal of trying to get younger and more athletic on defense.
That effort was dealt a blow when safety-linebacker Tank Williams, who was expected to see a lot of playing time at both positions, was put on injured reserve after hurting his knee in Thursday's loss to the Ravens.
One of those players being counted on heavily is third-year linebacker Pierre Woods, a free agent who saw the bulk of his action on special teams last season.
With most of the veterans watching from the sideline in the preseason opener against Baltimore, Woods and rookie linebacker Shawn Crable, also from Michigan, were two of the standouts on defense for the Patriots.
Woods had three tackles, a sack and forced a fumble. Crable had four tackles and an interception that he returned 11 yards.
When it was suggested that Woods had taken Crable under his wing during training camp, Woods begged to differ.
``I think I'm under Sean's wing. Sean's under everyone's wing, I'm still under Vrabel's wing, still under Adalius' wing,'' said Woods, referring to veteran New England linebackers Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas.
``You never stop learning. You have to be that sponge and soak everything up.''
Woods always seems to have a smile on his face, especially when it comes time to hit the field.
``Football's fun and it's always been fun for me,'' he said. ``I love football and I always have loved football. There's nothing else in this world that I would rather do than play football. Where else are you going to be able to hit people? Everywhere else, you're going to jail for it.''
The Patriots had a walkthrough practice Monday morning in preparation for Sunday's preseason game in Tampa against the Buccaneers. Most of the New England veterans are expected to make an appearance after 18 starters, including quarterback Tom Brady, sat out the Baltimore game.
The Patriots added veteran free-agent cornerback Jeff Shoate to fill Williams' spot on the roster.
Shoate, a fourth-year player, earned a Super Bowl ring by playing for the New York Giants last season, and is being counted on to add depth.
``So far I'm getting a pretty good grasp on it (the system) but I have to do it on the field,'' Shoate said.
He said he hadn't seen his Super Bowl ring yet, but his wife Ronisa told him she had been wearing it around.
``He's had a little bit of experience in the league and gives us a little depth in an area where we need it,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
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