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Patriots add more depth with T-Buck


Terrell Buckley has the reputation of a gambler. The veteran cornerback plays with a high risk/high reward attitude that is evidenced by his penchant for making interceptions and occasionally allowing the big play.

Bill Belichick has a much more conservative reputation. He believes in forcing the opponent to methodically move downfield rather than expose himself to the quick hit touchdown.

With those thoughts in mind, it was with some surprise to learn the Patriots signed Buckley to a one-year contract on July 13. The former Green Bay first-round draft choice will be entering his 10th season after spending three years with the Packers, five with Miami and last season in Denver. He's been an in-your-face cover man throughout his time in the league, recording 38 interceptions and scoring four touchdowns. He posted a career-high eight picks in 1998 with the Dolphins.

"With all the multiple receiver formations that offenses present these days, you can never have too many players who can cover," Belichick said after the signing. "Terrell has done that in the past and we look forward to him joining the competition when camp begins."

Buckley will add badly needed depth to the defensive backfield. He joins fellow free agent pickup Terrance Shaw as the main candidates to battle it out with last year's starter Otis Smith at right cornerback. That trio is a marked improvement over Smith, Antonio Langham and Kato Serwanga, the three players who manned the spot a year ago.

Improving the pass defense was a major priority for Belichick this offseason. After watching his defense allow a staggering 43.5 percent (103-of-237) of third-down conversions, the Patriots head coach tried to address the problem in part by improving the secondary.

He selected three defensive backs during the draft in April, taking cornerbacks Brock Williams, Leonard Myers and safety Hakim Akbar. He then went out and signed Shaw and veteran cornerback Ray Hill as free agents.

Buckley is the most experienced of the newcomers with 142 games (123 starts) under his belt. When he came out of Florida State and broke in with the Packers as the No. 5 pick in 1992, he was billed as the next Deion Sanders. He didn't live up to that lofty status, but the 5-9, 176-pounder is a solid NFL corner with game-breaking abilities.

Last season with the Broncos, Buckley started all 16 games, recorded 35 tackles and led the team with six interceptions, good enough for third in the AFC. He also returned one of those picks 32 yards for a touchdown in the season opener at St. Louis.

Taking Buckley may be a gamble on Belichick's part, but at worst it's a calculated one. The Patriots lost a host of tight ballgames a year ago where the difference between victory and defeat oftentimes was the team's inability to make a play when it was sorely needed.

For all of Buckley's faults, he is and always has been a playmaker. Perhaps a few of his gambles will pay off with timely interceptions, thus turning a gut-wrenching defeat into a momentum-building victory.

In a move that was somewhat expected, the Patriots promoted Scott Pioli to director of player personnel. Pioli came to the team last season with Belichick and was officially the assistant director of player personnel, but the promotion will have little effect on his duties.

Pioli oversees all personnel matters, including the coordination of all player evaluations, the team's preparations for the college draft, the operation of the pro personnel department and the tracking of all player transactions throughout the year. He's also been heavily involved in contract negotiations for many of the team's numerous free agent signings.

The 36-year-old Pioli joined the Patriots last February, just a week after Belichick was named head coach. He began his career as a pro personnel assistant under Belichick with Cleveland in 1992. After the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996, Pioli was promoted to director of pro personnel. The following season he rejoined Belichick, this time in New York with the Jets. He spent three seasons with the Jets as their pro personnel director before following Belichick one more time to New England.

A pair of Patriots enjoyed solid campaigns over in NFL Europe. Tony Simmons and Josh Rawlings were named to the All-League Team after participating for Barcelona and Frankfurt, respectively. Simmons was the Dragons big-play receiver, finishing second in the league with seven touchdown catches. He completed the 10-game season with 32 catches for 538 yards and added six more catches for 127 yards and a 58-yard touchdown in the Dragons World Bowl loss to Berlin. Rawlings started every game at tackle and helped Frankfurt compile 108.9 rushing yards per game (second best in NFL Europe) and the Galaxy's offensive line allowed a league low 20 sacks.

It just doesn't seem like the opening of Patriots camp without Bruce Armstrong. The six-time Pro Bowl tackle has been a staple for New England during the past 14 seasons and has been a starter in each of them. After returning to the team and setting the franchise's all-time games played mark last year, Armstrong was not re-signed and has yet to reach a deal with any other team, meaning the end to a truly great career is likely upon us.

With the addition of Buckley, the Patriots now have a chance to employ a defensive backfield that includes a pair of T-Bucks, with Buckley possibly starting at cornerback and Tebucky Jones (who is also known as T-Buck by his teammates) the leading candidate to get the nod at free safety.

Here are some points within points: For the first time since the playoff format was expanded to 12 teams in 1990, all of 2000 the postseason qualifiers won at least 10 games. ... Some numbers courtesy of the Patriots public relations staff — the Patriots will consume 30 gallons of milk per day during training camp, 100 gallons of juice, 70 pounds of rice, 80 pounds of pasta, 250 pounds of fruit and 350 pounds of potatoes. ... Of the 89 players currently on the team's roster, 66 of them have been added since January of 2000. ... With the departure of Armstrong, Drew Bledsoe and Troy Brown now share the honor of being the longest tenured Patriots as they enter their ninth season. ... The Patriots will share practice time with the New York Giants on Aug. 7 and 8 at Bryant College. On Aug. 10, the teams will play the preseason opener at Foxboro Stadium. ... In the Pete Rozelle would be so proud department: Both the AFC and NFC West divisions have seen all five of their members capture the title in the last five years. During that same span, there have been 22 different division winners out of a possible 30, meaning that Rozelle's desired parity has indeed permeated through the NFL.