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Pats sign 12; Belichick looking ahead

Less than a week after his team won its second Super Bowl title in three years, Bill Belichick put a final wrap on 2003 with some minor announcements and set his sights officially on the future.

Speaking on a conference call, Belichick reported the team promoted Nick Caserio to director of pro personnel. Caserio spent time as scout and as a coaching assistant during his three previous years with the Patriots. Belichick also said the Patriots signed 12 players, assigned six to play in NFL Europe this spring and added that three players who finished the season in Patriots uniforms – quarterback Rohan Davey, wide receiver Chas Gessner and guard Jamil Soriano – also will play in Europe.

Davey's Europe plans were somewhat noteworthy given he'll be entering his third season. Belichick said both parties agreed on the course of action, which should benefit the young quarterback.

"There is no substitute for game experience," Belichick said when asked what he hoped Davey would get out of playing. "He hasn't gotten a lot of it in his two years here. He's gotten some in practice and in preseason games, but playing every day, practicing, preparing for games, game planning, game adjustments and those types of things he hasn't done in two year and this will be an opportunity for him to do those."

Of the 12 newcomers, four had previous experience with the organization. Linebacker Justin Kurpeikis spent a short stint on the practice squad last October while running back Frank Moreau, safety Scott Farley and defensive lineman Buck Rasmussen all were in camp last summer. The remaining eight are fullback Philip Crosby, tackles Jack Fadule and David Pruce, running back Malaefou MacKenzie, wide receiver Marquise Walker, linebacker Lawrence Flugence, cornerback Mike Hall and safety Jason Perry. Flugence, Hall, Perry and Pruce will join Farley and Rasmussen in Europe.

That was the extent of the roster information Belichick was willing to divulge. The coach wouldn't comment on the pending decision on running back Antowain Smith's $500,000 roster bonus, which would need to be picked up by Sunday or Smith would become a free agent.

"The only comments I have made are on the players that I could say anything on," Belichick said. "There are a number of other situations and players in all different categories. When we have something we will give it to you."

Caserio's rapid rise was somewhat surprising given his limited experience. Caserio worked in the personnel department in 2001 before switching to the coaching ranks the following year. In 2003, he returned to the scouting department and evidently impressed the organization enough to earn the vacated spot of pro personnel director.

"He'll handle all current pro players including the National Football League, free agents who are not currently employed in the NFL and other professional football leagues where players could potentially come into the NFL," Belichick said. "He is in charge of evaluating them, categorizing them, bringing them in for workouts and all of the things that go with that group of players. He and [director of college scouting] Thomas Dimitroff both report to Scott [Pioli], who is in charge of the overall function of the personnel department."

Belichick stressed the urgency of making up for lost time due to the Super Bowl run, which he says left the staff about six weeks behind everyone else in terms of preparing for scouting combine in two weeks and the April draft. The coaching staff is currently taking some time off but will return before the group heads to Indianapolis for the combine, which begins Feb. 18.

That coaching staff will continue to be minus one member at least for now as Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will soon meet to discuss their plans regarding a new quarterbacks coach. John Hufnagel left earlier this week to become offensive coordinator for the New York Giants, thus leaving the position open. Belichick said he and Weis would decide whether or not to hire a replacement "in due course."

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