Monty Beisel's first season in New England didn't exactly go as planned. In fact, in many ways, it was an outright nightmare.
Initially excited by being pursued in free agency by the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick to play the key position of inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, spring optimism turned quickly to fall failings for the former Kansas City Chief. Beisel and fellow free-agent addition Chad Brown were doomed to fail as they worked to try to fill the large void left in the middle of the New England defense by the training camp eve retirement of Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi's off-season stroke.
The Patriots defense struggled from the get-go in 2005, allowing big plays and too many points (more than 20 in each of the first six weeks) while limping to a 3-3 record. New faces like Beisel, Brown and cornerback Duane Starks struggled mightily in their new roles, and by the time the team lost Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison and slew of cornerbacks to injuries, the unit ranked as one of the worst in the game.
Many turned the blameful eye on the newcomers, particularly Beisel and Starks. Beisel, a former defensive end turned inside linebacker with New England, started as the team's Mike linebacker. This meant Beisel was in charge of making all the calls and adjustments in the Patriots complex scheme.
Beisel struggled to fill his new role as he and the rest of the defense had trouble stopping opponents. The unit had to remain uncharacteristically plain in its schemes. Eventually Beisel was sent to the sidelines as a reserve when veteran Mike Vrabel made the switch to the inside and Bruschi returned from the physically unable to perform list for the team's seventh game of the season.
Looking back now, Beisel has come to grips with the difficult situation he was thrown into a year ago.
"It was difficult last year -- Chad and I both in the middle, new to the system, new to what we were trying to get done," Beisel said following a recent off-season workout at Gillette Stadium. "Then we lose Richard, then Harrison early on, we have all of our corners gone. The communication was tough. Then when things like that happened, we got very, very vanilla. I couldn't honestly tell you one time I had a designed blitz for the first six weeks of last season. Whereas, when Eric (Mangini, then Patriots defensive coordinator) got some of the guys back who had been around the system -- and been here longer -- they started to do some of those things in week seven, week eight. We started building that back in, things we'd done in the mini-camps and things like that.
"But we kept it real vanilla (early in the year), and at times, that may have hurt us. There were a bunch of guys out there trying to learn the defense for the first time and in Chad and my case, we took a little bit of the rap for what was going on."
Beisel finished his first year with the Patriots starting six of 15 games played, recording 57 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. Looking back on the ups and many downs the sixth-year veteran out of Kansas State isn't dwelling on the poor start to his career in New England.
"Last year was a challenge, with how the season unfolded for me. It was frustrating. But it doesn't change (anything)," Beisel said. "For me, year in and year out, every off-season my job is to come back here and try to be the best I can be at what I want to do. If I don't do that year in and year out, I shouldn't be in this profession. I always come back with an open mind. It's a new season, a new group of guys, and try to make it happen."
With that in mind, Beisel has added nearly 10 pounds of muscle to his speedy, athletic frame this off-season. The new weight brings him to just about 250 pounds, a more prototypical build for an inside linebacker in the 3-4. And with veteran starting outside linebacker Willie McGinest now playing for Cleveland and Vrabel expected to return to the outside, Beisel is currently penciled in alongside Bruschi in the starting lineup.
He's hoping his new role playing alongside the Pro Bowler Bruschi turns out a bit better than trying to replace No. 54 last fall.
"I feel good," Beisel said. "I think I've put myself in a good position this off-season. Now it's just a matter of continuing to focus on the things that you can get better at. We lost Willie McGinest, which is going to be tough. But now we have to move some guys around and shift them in, and continue to work as a whole. I think we have a bunch of veteran linebackers who can work really well together. As far as me stepping in and working more with that group -- a little more than I did last year -- and getting the mix refined a bit from last year, I think we're going to be good."