Bill Belichick often talks about the need to create depth and competition whenever and wherever possible. With the recent addition of guard Rich Tylski, Belichick augmented an offensive line that returned every linemen from the end of last season.
By bringing Tylski in, the Patriots essentially have created the guard competition they were looking for a year ago when Mike Compton, Joe Andruzzi and Joe Panos were expected to battle each other for the two starting guard spots. Panos retired on the first day of training camp, leaving Compton and Andruzzi as the starters by default.
Tylski's presence does not diminish the production of Compton or Andruzzi from last season, but he will push both veterans for playing time. During the recently-completed mini-camp, Tylski worked at both guard spots, at times rotating in with the first group. While the camp was not much of an evaluation period, Tylski obviously has the experience to earn a spot on the line. He started 26 games over the last two seasons in Pittsburgh, including all 16 in 2000. For his career he has started 62 of the 77 games he has played.
"My main focus is to come here and do what I am told," Tylski said. "I am going to play my role. Whatever that is, I am going to accept. There was nothing promised to me when I signed. They told me I would have to come in and compete for a spot. Your first goal every year is to make the team. That's going to be my No. 1 goal."
Tylski originally signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of Utah State in 1994 and spent the year on the practice squad. On his return to New England, he liked that fact that nothing was promised to him, and he felt this was a place he could fit in well.
"I had a good trip here. Out of the teams that showed interest in me, New England showed the most interest," Tylski said. "I knew [offensive coordinator] Charlie Weis from the past, as well as [offensive line coach] Dante Scarnecchia. We had a good meeting with them, and it seemed like a good group of guys that I felt I'd have a lot of fun playing with. I noticed they played well as a team out there. They all knew their role and executed."
Tylski witnessed that teamwork and execution up close in his final game of the 2001 season. Only a short time ago, the Patriots were the enemy, but Tylski was matter-of-fact when discussing the mental difference he has undergone in the months since the AFC Championship game.
"My mindset was that we needed to beat New England to go to the Super Bowl, and we fell short of that," Tylski said. "Now my mindset is that I am a New England Patriot. I've had time to dwell on [last season] but that's pretty much gone now. I've got to dwell on what is ahead of me. It's like anything else, you relish in the victory or you relish in the loss for a little while after it has happened. But at some point it becomes time to get on to the next season."
There is plenty of reason to be excited about the start of the 2002 season. New England opens CMGI Field with a tilt on Monday Night Football that will serve as an AFC Championship game rematch.
Some of Tylski's former teammates in Pittsburgh apparently are in a bit of denial about how the Steelers season ended. In Wednesday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, wide receiver Hines Ward had either a bout of amnesia or a slip of the tongue when he was asked about the possibility of veteran free agent Herman Moore joining Pittsburgh.
Ward was quoted as saying, "It would be hard for Herman to come in and try to tell guys what to do. He's going to be a help, but, at the same time, we went to the Super Bowl without him."
There have certainly been examples of lack of respect for what the Patriots accomplished in their championship season, but everyone before Ward at least acknowledged New England got to the title game.
It is possible Ward was misquoted or simply misspoke, but even giving him the benefit of the doubt there, it's clear what the Steelers attitude is with training camp less than two months away. In the same Tribune-Review story, safety Lee Flowers said everyone knows who the top dog is heading into 2002.
"We're the hunted right now, to be honest with you," Flowers said. "All teams right now are looking at how to beat the Steelers."
"We're not going to get caught up with the media as far as reading our own articles and reading the stuff they put in The Sporting News about the Steelers going to go to the Super Bowl, [that it'll be] the Steelers and St. Louis or the Steelers and Philadelphia. Every publication that's been out has had the Steelers and somebody. Everybody knows. Everybody knows who the hunted is. I'm not going to get into the logistics of why we're the hunted, but New England knows. Ask [the Patriots], they know."
Talk like that only adds more fuel to what should be quite an explosive start to the NFL season.