Linebacker Tedy Bruschi has agreed to a contract and will be back with New England for the 2000 season.
A fourth-round draft pick out of Arizona in 1996, Bruschi became a full-time starter in the 1999 season after three seasons as a situational pass rusher. He was second on the team in tackles last season behind safety Lawyer Milloy.
Bruschi started 14-of-16 games in 1999 despite suffering a sprained knee against Kansas City in Week Five. He had double-digit tackles in seven games, recorded two sacks, an interception and six passes defended. Bruschi also had a forced fumble and one fumble recovery last season.
The re-signing of Bruschi gives the Patriots four linebackers capable of starting. Bruschi, Ted Johnson and Chris Slade were the starters at season's end, but Andy Katzenmoyer was also a starter for most of the year. With all four players in the fold, there has been talks of New England switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense. Head Coach Bill Belichick has said that the team could play both formations at times this year.
While Bruschi, Slade, Johnson and Katzenmoyer are all capable starters, they are also the only linebackers with any experience on the team. New England has also lost backup linebackers Marty Moore and Vernon Crawford, which leaves New England thin at the position. The only other linebackers are Marc Megna and John Munch, neither of whom have ever been active for a regular season game.
Megna was elevated to the 53-man roster late in the 1999 season and is currently in training camp with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe. Munch signed as a first-year free agent on March 13. Munch has been on the practice squads of both the New York Jets and the Washington Redskins.
If the team stays with the 4-3 defense, Bruschi and Andy Katzenmoyer would battle for an outside backer spot for the second straight season. The two went into training camp fighting for the starting job, but a biceps injury to middle linebacker Ted Johnson forced Katzenmoyer to move into Johnson's role. When Johnson returned late in the season, Katzenmoyer became a reserve and played mostly on third downs.
The Patriots originally acquired Bruschi with the 86th pick overall in the 1996 draft. The pick was obtained from Detroit along with a 1996 fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick in exchange for New England's third-round pick that year.