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Experience paves way for smooth camp

In just two days, the Patriots will provide the first indication of what to expect for the 2002 season.

That glimpse comes in the form of New England's three-day mini-camp, which consists of double-sessions of practice Thursday and Friday and a single practice Saturday. It is the team's first and only mandatory camp of the summer before training camp and the 2002 slate begins.

As is the case each season, there are several new players still learning their way in New England. However, a look at the Patriots roster seems to indicate the camp should run as smoothly as a team could hope for. With only seven rookies (six draft picks and rookie free agent T.C. Taylor) on the team, the vast majority of the players pretty much know what to expect from the full-team workouts.

The overall experience of the New England roster is fairly incredible. Of the 81 players on the roster, 22 started at least 10 games last season, 31 have experience as fulltime starters and 50 have spent at least two full seasons in the NFL. About 70 percent of the players at least have logged significant playing time as reserves or on special teams

To put those numbers in perspective, the roster Head Coach Bill Belichick had before his first mini-camp in New England had 24 players with significant starting experience. There were nearly as many draft picks/rookie free agents (29) as there were players with at least two seasons in the league (36).

Since his arrival, Belichick has stressed the importance of building the roster from top to bottom, strengthening the team wherever possible right down to the 53rd slot on the active roster. It appears the Patriots have done that and then some, creating strong competition just about everywhere, not just for starting jobs, but for roster livelihood.

The amazing thing is that the team may not be done adding to its veteran presence. Linebacker Roman Phifer is generally expected to return to the team, and the Patriots are reportedly at least showing interest in some free agents, namely wide receiver Derrick Alexander and defensive end Rob Burnett, though both players may be leaning other ways.

Regardless of what happens during the remainder of the offseason, the Patriots will have a heavy veteran presence that should help immensely as they make preparations for a title defense in 2002.

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