While the general mentality for everyone around Gillette Stadium these days is about putting the 2004 season in the past and beginning work toward 2005 success, a turning of the page that was exemplified by the start of the offseason program earlier this week, that looking-forward mentality is especially easy for Tom Ashworth to enact.
For Ashworth, 2004 was somewhat of a lost season. While his teammates were putting together record-setting winning streaks and rolling through the postseason to a second-straight Lombardi Trophy, Ashworth's season began and ended with a back injury. The projected starting right tackle missed a portion of training camp with the injury and then saw his season end when he was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 6 after just six starts on the right side of the line.
Five months later though, the 6-6, 305-pound Colorado product is at full health, working out regularly and without limitation with an eye on a return to the right tackle spot where he's started 19 of 23 games played in his three-plus seasons in New England.
"I'm feeling great," Ashworth said following a recent workout in Foxborough. "I feel awesome – 100 percent. I am doing everything."
Without getting into the specifics of his injury, Ashworth says there is plenty of evidence to show that he shouldn't have to worry about future recurrences.
"There are a lot of guys who have had similar back problems to what I had and have gone on to play a long, long time – guys on this team, guys in other places -- and ended up having Pro Bowl years and Hall of Fame careers after it," Ashworth said. "Mine was pretty simple and easy to do relative to other back problems that it could have been. So I feel great."
The offensive line Ashworth is working back to will look different than the one he was forced from last fall after the departure of veteran leader Joe Andruzzi via free agency earlier this offseason. Andruzzi was a tough anchor of the unit who started every game he played in for New England after joining the team in 2000, including 16 starts in each of the team's three Super Bowl campaigns. Maybe more importantly, he was a key leader in the locker room where, at least initially, he will be sorely missed.
"That was hard," Ashworth said of his reaction to Andruzzi signing with the Browns to play for new Cleveland head coach and former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. "That was tough because when I first came here Joe was like a big brother. He just reached out and said, 'Hey' and kind of took me under his wing. He just took care of me really. I was out here by myself, far away from home and if I ever needed a place to eat on a holiday or just come over and hang out or just come over and have dinner … if I needed help with anything he was always there. And he's done that with countless players that have come through here. He's an incredible guy. He's an incredible friend, incredible teammate and he was incredible to the community. But that's just the way the league is and that's just how it works. We understand that."
With that in mind, Andruzzi's departure leaves a leadership hole within the tight knit group of linemen. But it's a hole that Ashworth feels the other players currently in the locker room should be able to fill.
"You would hope that someday you would be in a situation where you could do [what Andruzzi did] for other players as well," Ashworth said. "We've got a bunch of great guys here so we'll be all right. We have different guys that I think will step up and take that role."
But that transformation will take care of itself as the 2005 Patriots offensive line develops this summer and fall. For now, Ashworth is focused on his main objective – working to get his job back.
"I have to earn my spot back, that's football," Ashworth said. "You always have to earn things. Nobody gives you anything."
Ashworth hopes hard work this spring will pay off this fall as he looks to continue the developmental trend that's seen him go from undrafted practice squad player to Super Bowl starter over the course of his young career.
"I think I have come a long way," Ashworth said. "Physically I have definitely matured. I have just gotten older and matured. Mentally I think I have come a long way, too, as far as understanding the game and reacting. The game slows down a little bit. But this will be a big offseason for me and so far I feel great."
Six Patriots allocates will see action this weekend in the second week of games in NFL Europe. Running back Kory Chapman (6 rushes, 31 yards, 1 TD; 3 kickoff returns, 69 yards last weekend) leads the Cologne Centurions (1-0) to Rhein to take on the Fire (0-1) and fellow Patriot Cedric James (3 receptions, 28 yards, 1 TD) on NFL Network on Sunday at 10 a.m. EDT. In other action across the pond, wide receiver Ricky Bryant (5 receptions, 51 yards, 1 TD; 4 kickoff returns, 76 yards) and his NFLEL expansion Hamburg Sea Devils (0-1) travel to Berlin to take on the defending World Bowl champion Thunder (1-0). Finally, linebacker Grant Steen's (three tackles) Frankfurt Galaxy (0-1) will host the Amsterdam Admirals (1-0) on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. EDT on NFL Network. … If you ever wondered what sort of music Patriots two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady listens to while getting pumped before games, your questions have been answered. Brady's iPod playlist from pregame of Super Bowl XXXIX is now available for viewing on the iTunes Music Store at iTunes.com. The list includes 18 tracks Brady listened to prior taking on the Eagles and has Brady's comments on each selection. … In other news surrounding Brady, the Boston Herald reports that the NFL's most eligible bachelor could be dropping that title. The paper reports that Brady may be engaged to actress Bridget Moynahan. … And one last bit of Brady news, the quarterback will reportedly host NBC's Saturday Night Live on April 16. … According to the MetroWest Daily News the Patriots have reached a deal with free agent linebacker Monty Beisel. The former Chief reportedly "hit it off with Patriots officials" during a Tuesday visit to Gillette Stadium, causing the veteran of four NFL seasons to choose New England over the likes of the Steelers, Packers and Chiefs. In four pro seasons the Kansas State product has played in 55 games with nine starts, all of which came in 2004. A strong special teams contributor (58 tackles), Beisel has recorded 62 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one interception in defensive play during his career. He missed five games a year ago with a calf injury.