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ON FOOTBALL

They made the most of their wait

FOXBOROUGH -- Sometimes patience and restraint are the wise course, and that is the route the Patriots appeared to take yesterday in the opening day of the NFL Draft.

The existence of some nagging question marks in his linebacking corps, despite several free agent acquisitions, and the need for another defensive back did not rattle Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who refused to let his reach exceed his grasp in search of help that probably wasn't really there in the early hours of the draft. Instead, Belichick selected two aggressive offensive linemen that could give him a solid front for years to come, and a versatile corner who was good value with the choice the Patriots acquired from the Ravens.

Lacking the ammunition to move up much this year, Belichick let the draft come to him, settling on massive guard/tackle Logan Mankins of Fresno State in the first round, then unloading the final pick on the second round to Baltimore for a surprisingly high price, acquiring the Ravens' third- and sixth-round picks this year and Baltimore's third next year. That allowed the Patriots to get the young corner they needed, Iowa State's undersized but productive Ellis Hobbs, with the 20th pick in the third round.

Then they came back to an old staple, using a third-round compensatory selection to get the player considered perhaps the best in the Mid-American Conference, massive tackle Nick Kaczur.

"We did the best we could," Belichick said in his usual, understated fashion. "I'm pleased with the players we got. You can't really worry about what everybody else says or what everybody else does."

Although yesterday's picks were far from sexy, they were the kind of selections Belichick has become known for -- versatile guys who have a chance to help a team that has won three of the last four Super Bowls.

Mankins, in particular, is considered a very tough player who was a solid left tackle at Fresno, where he played for Belichick's old line coach with the Cleveland Browns. Pat Hill strongly recommended Mankins and Belichick felt confident about that, especially after Mankins went to the Senior Bowl and showed he was strong and aggressive enough to move inside and hold his own at guard as well, against bigger defensive players.

That is the kind of lineman New England likes best, guys who can do more than one thing, giving the Patriots flexibility and the player more than one chance to be successful.

Kaczur is the same kind of player and is massive at 6 feet 4 1/2 inches, 319 pounds. He, like Mankins, also has the proven work ethic Belichick cherishes and a willingness to play anywhere. The two give the Patriots more youth and size along the line, making it a position New England may not have to address for several years at a time when other areas, such as age at linebacker, will require their attention in the next draft.

When you are picking dead last, it is difficult to maximize your position, but Belichick and player personnel director Scott Pioli appeared to do that, then improved the team further with a solid trade, holding the Ravens up for three picks so they could get a shot at a player they wanted at the tail end of the second round.

One of those third-round choices landed New England a solid cover corner who can also return kicks, and a smart guy who already understands the Patriot Way.

"It doesn't matter to me," Hobbs said of New England's well-known demand for flexibility and an open mind. "Something you learn about the New England Patriots, with those guys, everybody's playing everywhere. One person goes down, the next person is coming in, so I expect to fit right in. I'm not worried about just playing cornerback. I want to play everything."

Same is true for the two linemen, who replace departed Joe Andruzzi and Adrian Klemm with youth, size, versatility, and arguably more athletic ability. All in all, the Patriots succeeded in getting strong value for where they were picking, shoring up one position while being able to add a corner who may help them as a return man.

Today the Patriots come back with seven more picks, several of which will probably be packaged to either move up or help them stockpile additional draft choices next year, once again providing them with more flexibility, something Belichick demands not only from his players but also from his draft board.

"You just kind of sit there and watch the parade go by," Belichick said of drafting so late each round. "There isn't much you can do. There was no way, without giving up a first-round pick next year and all of that type of thing . . . there was no opportunity to go anywhere. We just felt like the best thing, given the value on the board and the players that were up there, we were better off staying where we were and that is what we did."

Actually they did more than that. When they did pick, they appeared to make solid if unspectacular choices that will give them added depth. When they traded, they got more than they gave up. When you are selecting where the Patriots were yesterday, that's doing all you can with what you have.

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