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PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK

Another challenge for Brown

He's battling for playing time

Few athletes in this area are more respected than Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown. At 33, he's struggled to fight his way up the depth chart again after falling behind Deion Branch, David Patten, and David Givens, while having to endure a stint as a cornerback in the exhibition season.

But Brown, who has been recovering from a knee injury suffered while returning a punt in the third exhibition game, hopes to rise again.

"I've had to fight all my career," Brown said. "I'll keep fighting my way back up. It's a long season. You wind up needing all of your players before it's over. I can still play. You're never going to get that out of my mind."

To have someone of Brown's big-play capability in reserve shows the depth of the roster. Yet he knows he's fighting time.

Branch and Bethel Johnson are former second-round draft picks who have shown flashes of brilliance. Givens is a former seventh-rounder who has drawn praise from Brown for the way he's emerged. Patten's rebirth is also proof that while one might be out of the picture temporarily because of injury, one can rise again.

Patten surprised the coaching staff with his speed in training camp, and coupled with his intangibles, there's no way he shouldn't be on the field.

Brown said his first punt return last week, when he split a pair of Arizona tacklers and scampered up the middle for 22 yards, felt good.

"It was good to feel I could make people miss," he said. "That's a good sign. That's what I need to show more often."

"It's a process," he added. "I'm 3 1/2 weeks closer to where I want to be physically. You have to keep fighting and fighting. I want to be a contributor to this team like I always have been."

Forking over praise
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said lineman Vince Wilfork is coming along nicely.

"I think Vince has had a lot of progress in our system, because he has come primarily from a penetrating defense and we play more of a technique-oriented defense," Crennel said. "He has learned the system and he understands what we need to do and how we want to do it. He is trying to get that done on the field. We are pleased with his progress."

The Patriots had a big hole to fill when nose tackle Ted Washington opted to sign with the Raiders in the offseason, but it looks as if they'll be OK because of Wilfork's play.

Still, Crennel believes his defense has to make some strides before he feels comfortable.

"We have a lot of work to do," he said. "That is evident by the first two games. Each year is a different year, a new year. You have new players, so you have to try to develop that chemistry on your team. I think we are still trying to do that, learning to play together and knowing what each and every teammate can do. That is where we are right now. We have some work to do."

Capital idea
Quarterback Tom Brady's charitable work is sometimes overshadowed by his appearances on the social pages, but Brady has donated the Cadillac he won for being Super Bowl MVP to his alma mater, Junipero Serra (Calif.) High School. The car will be raffled off Nov. 13 to raise money for the school's capital campaign. Brady is one of several famous Junipero Serra High alumni, including the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds . . . It will be interesting to see whether the Patriots show interest in quarterback Damon Huard, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday. Huard knows the Patriots' system and never really wanted to leave. He was released by the Chiefs after they signed receiver Chris Horn off their practice squad. Huard has played in 38 NFL games (six starts) in seven previous regular seasons. He played on both of New England's winning Super Bowl teams . . . The Patriots have about $3 million of cap room if they're inclined to make a move before the Oct. 19 trade deadline.

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