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Training Camp: Wednesday morning notes

With Tedy Bruschi sidelined with a wrist injury, competition at inside linebacker is on center stage at Patriots training camp practices this summer.

Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi missed his 11th straight workout Wednesday morning as New England took to the practice fields at Gillette Stadium and continued to prepare for Friday night's preseason opener in Atlanta. Bruschi's continued absence came as no shock though, as Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick confirmed on Tuesday night to the Boston Globe that the Pro Bowl linebacker does indeed have a broken wrist and will miss all four of the team's preseason games.

"Tedy has a broken wrist," Belichick told the Globe, confirming the injury first reported in the Boston Herald. "He will not play in any of the preseason games."

Belichick was asked about his comments in his morning press conference, but chose to let his earlier "statement" stand and would not expand on the Bruschi injury, including whether or not the linebacker would have surgery.

With Bruschi on the shelf for the foreseeable future, and his status unknown for the team's season opener against the Bills Sept. 10, veteran free agent addition Barry Gardner continued to get significant reps at inside linebacker with the first unit on Wednesday. Veteran special teamer Don Davis worked alongside Gardner on the inside with the first unit. Monty Beisel and Freddie Roach took reps with the second team, while outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, who played inside out of necessity last season, has also made some cameo appearances on the inside at practice in recent days.

Based on the reps less than two days before the exhibition opener, it would appear that Gardner and Davis could get the starting nod in Atlanta. Gardner is experienced, thanks to 18 starts over his first two seasons in the league with the Eagles in 1999 and 2000, but the veteran only started six more games over the next five NFL seasons and is with his third team in three seasons. His 24 career starts, and 266 career tackles make him the most experienced of the would-be inside players other than Vrabel, but he's a complete newcomer to New England's 3-4 scheme and style of play.

"It's definitely a different scheme," Gardner said after a recent practice. "I've played in 4-3 schemes. It's also a fun scheme to play in. I never knew much about the 3-4. I mean I experimented a little bit last year with the Jets, but this is definitely a scheme that requires linebackers to be able to make plays. I am excited about it."

Davis, who started 15 games at linebacker for the Rams over two seasons in 2001 and 2002, also lacks game experience in New England's 3-4 scheme. In three years with the team, Davis has played more special teams than anything else, and actually started two games at safety late in the 2004 season.

"It's a great opportunity right now," Davis Said. "Guys are down and we are moving guys around everywhere. I'm just excited to be able to get out there and show what I can do. I did come here to learn the inside position. Safety was more of the aberration so to speak. It's just kind of getting back in there, going with the natural reads for me. It's not really that challenging, it's just getting out there and doing it."

And Beisel, who has missed plenty of practice action himself with an undisclosed injury in camp, is also still trying to prove his worth in the middle of New England's 3-4 front. He struggled in a starting role early last season, but hopes to find a more comfortable role in his second season in the system.

"I'm taking it day by day and just trying to get better on a daily basis," Beisel said. "I've been around these guys for the last year now. We definitely know each other on a personal level. It's just about getting out here and getting some reps together and getting a little cohesion and chemistry. But at this point we obviously have a bunch of guys rolling in at different spots and we just have to try to work and get chemistry wherever we can."

The biggest wild card in the middle could be rookie free agent Freddie Roach. Undrafted after a solid career at Alabama, Belichick says Roach brings some strengths to the field that could help him as he battles for a job and playing time at arguably the thinnest spot on the New England roster.

"Freddie played in a little bit of a different system at Alabama from what we use, but he's big, he's physical and he's a tough player," Belichick said. "He takes on people well. He's got good playing strength. And has pretty good instincts against the run, again coming from college and all that. I'm not putting him up there with a veteran NFL player, but just in relative terms I think those are his strengths. We'll see how he plays with tackling and real live competition. Based on the way he played in college I think that will be a strong point for him. I am kind of a little hesitant to put that out there right now until he's actually done it but I think based on his play in college that that will be strong point."

For his part, Roach is simply doing what he's asked to and trying to learn from everyone else around him.

"I am so far behind from the older guys that I am just trying to learn what's going on and follow their guide," Roach said. "They are great guys. They do it the right way. So I am just trying to take every they are saying."

And while the rookie has earned second team reps in practice, and in turn should see plenty of action Friday in Atlanta, he knows the game action will be a major gauge of his professional progress.

"I am looking forward to it," Roach said of his debut. "Like I said, I'll earn my playing time out here. I come to work, work hard every day and hopefully it will work out. It's kind of like being in college, it's an exam. It's definitely a test. Like I said, I come to work every day and just try to take care of business."

Regardless of how the preseason action plays out, even those fighting to fill in for Bruschi know the team will be that much better off when the veteran Pro Bowler is capable of returning to action, whenever that may be. It's a lesson Patriots players and fans alike learned last fall when Bruschi missed the first half of the season after an offseason stroke, only to return mid-year to help solidify the New England defense on a strong late season run toward the playoffs.

"It's always disappointment when you lose a guy who has been there and done it," Davis said of the present state of the inside linebacker position. "But it's still early and we are looking for Tedy to get healthy and then come out and have a good year."

"It's definitely a tough blow, but we know once Tedy comes back he's going to be ready to play and we're going to be excited when he comes back," Beisel added.

Who's Hot: Don Davis – One of the hardest working players, evident by his spot as one of the team's offseason award winners, Davis is sort of a poor man's Troy Brown. Need a safety, as the team did a couple years back? Davis is there. Need a special team ace? Davis is your man. Now, with too-thin depth at inside linebacker Davis is running with Barry Gardner on the inside with the first unit. Like some of his more-hyped teammates, Davis just shows up, does what is asked of him, produces and helps this team win. For that, he deserves recognition.

Who's Not: The kickers – The duo of veteran Martin Gramatica and rookie Stephen Gostkowski was put to the test at the end of practice with attempts from about 35 yards under orchestrated pressure situations including last-minute defensive timeouts and other distractions. Neither shined in the action, and Gramatica in particular looked very bad in missing a "pressure-filled," 37-yard kick to close out the practice. As preseason game action approaches, both kickers have plenty left to prove.

Play of the Practice: Cornerback Asante Samuel stole the show, and the ball, when he stepped in front of a quick Matt Cassel pass intended for a receiver on a quick slant to the left side. Samuel jumped in the air and took the ball away from the offense before Cassel and Co. even knew what hit them.

Tucker traded

The Patriots announced a minor trade late Tuesday, sending backup offensive lineman Ross Tucker to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick, reportedly a conditional 2007 selection.

The 6-4, 316-pound Tucker is a fifth-year veteran who signed with the Patriots last Dec. 13. He was a game day inactive for two of the final three games of the season, although he did play as a substitute in the season finale against Miami. The former undrafted free agent has also spent time with the Redskins (2001-02), Cowboys (2002) and Bills (2003-04) in his NFL career that includes 24 starts in 42 games played. He will reportedly compete at center for the Browns, a spot weakened significantly when the team lost prize free agent addition LeCharles Bentley to a knee injury early in training camp.

The trade also brought about a couple number changes. Offensive lineman Nick Steitz traded in his white No. 75 jersey for the number 69 formally worn by Tucker. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is now the only player wearing No. 75, his coming in blue as is the case with all defensive players in training camp.

Notes:Tight end Daniel Graham took part fully in the morning session, trading in the red, non-contact jersey he'd worn in recent days for his customary No. 82 in white. … The former PUP players who returned to practice this week, only to sit out yesterday's second of two sessions, took part in the morning session. That group includes Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, Randall Gay and Dan Koppen. … Jarvis Green returned to the practice field for the first time since July 29. … Chad Jackson, Marquise Hill, Chad Brown, John Stone, Garrett Mills, Patrick Pass (PUP) and Nick Kaczur (PUP) were not on the practice field. ... Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and his son, Dan, took in the morning workout. … The Patriots are scheduled to return to the practice field Wednesday evening for a workout from 5:30-7:30 and will then travel to Atlanta Thursday afternoon in preparation for Friday night's preseason opener. … During one special teams segment the Patriots worked on their onside kick return, or hands team. The scout team showed a couple different looks, working under the new NFL rules that require at least four players on each side of the kicker on all onside attempts. … Kevin Faulk and Ellis Hobbs were paired up deep on one kick return followed by Willie Andrews with Kelvin Kight and Laurence Maroney with Bam Childress. … New wide receiver addition Eddie Berlin admits to coming into camp late with a few kinks to work out. "There is definitely some rust because I wasn't with anybody all spring," Berlin said. "So it's been since the end of the season last year since I put a helmet on. So there is definitely some rust. Plus I am trying to learn this offense. It's a crash course right now."

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