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Mini-camp a mini preview of '05 Pats

Four months after New England won its second straight Super Bowl title, its third in four seasons, the team will take a step toward an unprecedented Lombardi three-peat with the team's mandatory full-squad mini-camp this week on the practice fields at Gillette Stadium. The media, and, by extension, fans of Patriots Nation will get the opportunity to take a glimpse at the 80-plus players the team will whittle down later this year to form a 53-man roster that will open the season on Sept. 8 against the Raiders.

As the team itself takes its first step up the football mountain, heading toward training camp with as deep and talented a roster as ever, a few answers may begin to surface in regards to the questions and roster spot battles the team faces in the coming months.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the two-time defending champs is the health of linebacker Tedy Bruschi following a mild stroke suffered last February. Both the team and the player have been typically tight-lipped about the defensive co-captain's prospects for the coming season and there will likely be little change in that area this week.

According to a report in Wednesday's Boston Herald, Bruschi "is not expected to take part in the mini-camp." The report goes on to cite an unnamed source warning that "Bruschi's level of participation this weekend should not be taken as a harbinger of his plans for this year" and that the Pro Bowl linebacker is taking his time making a decision about his playing status for 2005.

Beyond Bruschi's health status, there are a number of other players looking to return from injury in 2005. Tight end Benjamin Watson, safety Guss Scott, linebacker/fullback Dan Klecko, tackle Tom Ashworth, cornerback Tyrone Poole, wide receiver P.K. Sam and linebacker Eric Alexander all finished last season on injured reserve but should compete for playing time heading into the new season. With Scott and Watson in particular, New England has a pair of 2004 draft picks who enticed fans in their limited action a year ago (Watson played in one regular season game while Scott was hurt in a preseason contest) but appear to have big upsides for the future.

The mini-camp will also offer a peak into the crystal ball as to how some of the team's new faces may fit in New England. Between its draft picks and free agent addition such as backup quarterback Doug Flutie, wide receiver David Terrell, linebacker Chad Brown, cornerback Duane Starks, linebacker Monty Beisel and wide receiver Tim Dwight, the Patriots have plenty of new blood in the mix that should make for heated competition at nearly every position and in theory will make the team a deeper squad come September.

So while Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick will likely emphasize over the next few days that the mini-camp this week is a teaching camp and not about evaluation, it is unquestionably a first step toward what will be the 2005 Patriots. The mini-camp should offer a glimpse into the future as the team prepares to once again challenge the summit of the NFL.

Notes

A group of Patriots Cheerleaders will be performing in several shows in the Central Command/Fifth Fleet area of operations from June 9-18 for military personnel deployed in support of the Global War on Terror. Cheerleader Director and Choreographer Tracy Sormanti and cheerleaders Melinda McGrath, Alison Preston, Lori Baranksi and Amber vanEeghen will travel overseas for the tour, the sixth the Patriots Cheerleaders have participated in since the Sept. 11 attacks. Previously the squad has taken part in the Citizen Patriot Tour (2001), Operation Enduring Freedom (2002), Operation Seasons Greetings (2003, 2004) and Operation Pacific Greetings (2004). … Just a clarification as the team prepares to sign its draft picks and heads toward training camp, the team has a total roster limit of 88 players. That numbers comes from the normal 80-man training camp roster limit, plus five NFL Europe exemptions for Joel Jacobs, Cedric James, Kory Chapman, Grant Steen and Ricky Bryant, and three bonus exemptions for the "quality of player" the team sent to Europe. The exemptions run through the first wave of cuts, meaning the team will have the ability to keep 73 players at the 65-man (Aug. 30), but they expire as of the final 53-man cut (Sept. 4) heading into the regular season. … Following mini-camp action the team will have two more group gatherings before departing for an extended break prior to the start of training camp in late July. Sunday evening the players will receive their Super Bowl XXXIX championship rings in a ceremony at owner Robert Kraft's house. One day later, the team will take part in the annual New England Patriots Charitable Foundation Golf Tournament at the Belmont Country Club in Belmont, Mass.

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