FOXBOROUGH -- It's Eric Mangini's teaching style, his Socratic method of coaching defense.
He asks questions. Lots of them.
James Sanders says he has tried the oldest trick in the book (putting his head into a book) to escape.
Don Davis admits to jokingly rolling his eyes at a question, and openly wondering, ''Do I need to know this?"
But the questions keep coming from the Patriots' new defensive coordinator.
Yesterday, just over a week before the regular season opener, Mangini took to the podium to have questions from the media fired in his direction for the first time since training camp begin in July.
Though he didn't look particularly comfortable under the lights, Mangini didn't crack and share any secrets during the 11-minute session.
How good his defense proves to be won't be known for some time, but one thing's for certain: Mangini will field a squad that knows the ins and outs of the schemes they are expected to execute.
''He's a good teacher," said linebacker Chad Brown, who at 35 happens to be a year older than his coach. ''The way he installs things, it makes sense, and he's very approachable.
''He's constantly asking us questions to, No. 1, see what the heck we know, and, No. 2, to see how we feel about certain things and how comfortable we are."
The Patriots say that their comfort level has been steadily improving throughout the offseason, which began with Mangini taking the position vacated by Romeo Crennel, who left to become head coach in Cleveland.
Mangini's 10 years working for Bill Belichick and seven with Crennel have eased the transition.
''You always want to go with a guy who's been around, who knows the system and knows the players, as opposed to some guy you just grab off the street," Davis said. ''Doesn't matter how good he is, but he comes in and he's not really familiar with the way you do things.
''It does make the transition a lot easier to have a guy in-house that steps up."
Patriots defenders are already weary of questions about any differences between Crennel and Mangini. Rosevelt Colvin joked that the only difference is that one is black, the other white.
''Even if I hated Eric's style, I'd still have to deal with it, so who cares about the difference between he and Romeo?" safety Rodney Harrison said.
Mangini seems to like where things are at this point. After a couple of so-so outings, the Patriots dominated Green Bay in an exhibition game last week.
''I think that we are making progress from where we were in minicamp and [the beginning of] training camp," Mangini said. ''These guys work really hard. They study, which helps, and we're getting a little bit better each week.
''I kind of like it when they do it right -- that's the goal. If we learn from our mistakes, that's OK. The problem is when we consistently make the same mistakes. As long we make a mistake and correct the mistake and it doesn't happen again, then that's OK. The problem is more or less when we make the same error multiple times."
Errors are expected on the field, especially with some newcomers in the lineup, but Mangini said he expects to make errors as well.
''It's like starting any new process, learning the best way to do things, understanding the best way to approach things -- whether it be meetings, game plans, that type of thing -- there is a little bit of a learning curve there," he said. ''Once you experience it and go through it, each time you can build on it.
''I'm looking to improve from each week and learn from some of the mistakes that I make. Hopefully, just like the players, the mistakes won't repeat and I'll get better as we go."
Mangini didn't talk about specifics when asked how his defense would be different from Crennel's, but there will be noticeable ones.
''Anytime you add a new person to the mix, you're going to get differences just because each coordinator, each person that's calling the plays, has their own fingerprint and their own way of doing things," Mangini said. ''The way that Romeo may have approached one situation, I may approach it differently.
''I couldn't really say right now what specifically would be the difference, but I know that we've had difference of opinions on what defense should be called in what situation, and that is going to happen whenever you add a new person to the mix.
''Even though there are going to be some similarities, I'm sure that, just by virtue of me being new in this role, there will be some things that look a little different."