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Combine Notes: Trying to play catch-up

The Patriots are two-time defending champs and that isn't lost on their competition.

The New England Patriots have won the last two Super Bowls and three of the last four. Their record over that time is a cool 57-16. So it's no surprise other teams are looking at the Patriots as the example for success to show their own team. That includes the divisional rival Buffalo Bills, whose head coach, Mike Mularkey said as much this week at the Combine.

"It's hard to even explain how they've done it," Mularkey said. "It's easy for me to get up in front of [my] team because what I preach, they do. I can use them as an example that if you play smart football and you don't beat yourself on Sundays, if you have players that push each other, you don't have coaches pushing the players, you have guys that are playing for each other and making sacrifices for each other and a team that's physical, you've got chances to win every week. And they consistently do it week in and week out."

Mularkey's boss, Bills General Manager Tom Donahoe, also admires what the Patriots have done and how they've done it.

"They've done a good job," he said. "We take a lot of criticism in Buffalo like we're the only team that can't beat New England. I don't see anybody beating them, so we have a lot of company. But when you look at what they've done with their roster, when you look at what they've done with the salary cap, when you look at what they've done with their coaching and getting players to buy into the team concept, which is really what we're all trying to do, they've done it better than the rest of us."

Draft weaker than normal?Because the top of the 2005 NFL Draft isn't as clear-cut as in years past, there is a perception that the draft as a whole is weaker, but Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin doesn't necessarily buy that.

"The strength is what it always is," Coughlin said. "Certain positions are stronger than others. We do feel there are a number of people who are of the good range that will be there in the second through fifth rounds that will give us some good players to choose from. In the areas that we're interested in, we feel like we will have some good football players.

"There aren't as many names but that doesn't mean it won't be an outstanding draft. Many, many times the players that are not necessarily recognizable become outstanding players. I would say that maybe the names aren't [household] but that doesn't mean the quality isn't there. Those middle rounds are going to be good rounds."

Patriots Vice President of Scott Pioli also doesn't deal with perceptions or outside opinions. "I don't spend time comparing the drafts," he said. "This is the pool of players we have to pick from and we'll pick from it. We don't talk in terms of round yet. We're trying to find players that fit for us."

Combine benefits
For Pioli, the combine offers a chance to meet with some of the agents that represent current Patriots as well as continue the player evaluation process along with his team of scouts. Many top players don't complete the workouts at the combine, but the event still helps teams work closer to completing a picture on a player.

"This is when you start to personalize the relationships with the players in the draft," Pioli said. "You've watched a lot of tape before now, but here you get to spend time with the players. They can answer questions that we have both physically and mentally."

That process started at the all-star games where the teams are permitted to interview players, but the combine offers each team 60 scheduled 15-minute interviews.

Pioli balked at the notion that finding the right players rather than the best players means the Patriots don't prioritize talent.

"We're not looking to get discounted talent," he said. "There is a misperception that we compromise ability purely for character. I don't think that's accurate. The guys we try to get aren't just good people, they are good football players."

Coughlin also noted the benefits of the weeklong event beyond the player workouts. "The obvious medical value [is important]," Coughlin said. "It's a great value that way and with the interview process. You do still have a great number of players who do work. From that standpoint, you take full advantage of it. No one likes it when the player does not work out. That's what we're here for. It puts more pressure on the individual workout at the school, but, nevertheless, it's their choice."

Bruschi update
Tedy Bruschi has not addressed the media since suffering a mild stroke days after returning from his first Pro Bowl, but Pioli was asked about his star linebacker while in the NFL Network set with Terrell Davis and Rich Eisen.

"I saw him the other day," Pioli told the NFL Network's Total Access. "Organizationally, we're going to do everything we can to help him and he's requested that the progress and whatever happens come through him, but he's doing OK."

Strong man
BYU guard Scott Young was the strongest combine participant on Wednesday and strongest among all offensive linemen that lifted. He completed 44 reps on the 225-pound bench press.

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