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Hard work helps Brown stay in place

FOXBOROUGH -- One of these days, Troy Brown will no longer play for the Patriots.

Predictions that the end would come this preseason were proved incorrect when he was named to the 53-man roster.

Speculation that he isn't likely to be a factor in the Patriots' offense quieted to a whisper after Tom Brady found Brown running free in the Oakland Raiders' secondary several times in last week's season opener.

The intense wide receiver competition in training camp that was supposed to expose the step Brown has (supposedly?) lost instead showed so much more. It was an illustration of professionalism.

Brown ran every route, caught almost every ball thrown his way, and played and practiced when others rested. In short, he made the team.

''No matter what's happening, what type of receivers come in that could be more talented than him, his work ethic and high level of playing -- big plays, making plays, and being clutch -- keeps him grounded here," said linebacker Willie McGinest, second to Brown on the team in seniority. ''It keeps him stable. Makes it hard not to like a guy like that."

Like is an understated description of the feeling Brown evokes. Brown could garner applause from fans at training camp by tying his shoe. His catches during drills drew standing ovations.

The team's younger returning receivers and new wideouts had to make super efforts to get anything more than polite applause.

But more important than earning a place in fans' hearts, some receivers needed to catch the coaches' eyes for Brown's spot on the team. Up and down with catches and in and out with injuries, Brown couldn't be supplanted.

David Terrell was released. P.K. Sam was released (and later re-signed to the practice squad). Bethel Johnson and Andre Davis were inactive for the Oakland game because of injuries.

Johnson is closer to returning than Davis, and he could be ready to play against Carolina Sunday. As has been the case for more than a decade, expect Brown to be there.

''Guys come, guys go. It doesn't really matter what guys come, you got your core group of guys on this team, and you know what you're going to get from 'em," McGinest said. ''You can count on Troy. You can count on Troy for whatever.

''You saw him playing a little bit of [defensive back] last year and being productive at it. At receiver, he's one of the best in the game. He doesn't get the credit he deserves, of course, but he is definitely rated high on this team. A lot of people look up to him and respect what he does."

And that includes those whose playing time stands to increase as Brown's decreases.

''Troy is a true professional," said Johnson. ''I've learned a lot from him, just watching how he handles himself on and off the field. You can benefit just being around him and taking it all in, because the guy's been in the game for 13 years, he hasn't been here that long for nothing. You have to have something that'll keep you here.

''In my eyes, he's a real leader. He leads by example. He doesn't say anything, doesn't complain, he just goes out and does what he has to do. That's what you want in a leader, somebody that shows up and goes out and does the job."

Leadership skills may be meaningful to a football team, but on-the-field production is most important.

With six receptions for 51 yards against the Raiders, including a 20-yard catch on the first touchdown drive, Brown proved he is still capable of delivering on offense. Last season, mostly because of his defensive duties, he had only 17 catches.

After his contract wasn't renewed, Brown looked for free agent offers, but found few takers. The New Orleans Saints offered him good money and guaranteed playing time. Brown opted for a pay cut and, in many ways, a tryout with the Patriots.

An injury-free exhibition season helped him secure a roster spot.

''You can't really rate a guy who's not out there, who's not doing nothing," McGinest said. ''That goes for whatever position. This is a physical sport, we're all going to get dinged up and get hurt. Nobody's immune to that.

''Troy's not 100 percent, either. He's beaten up, too. We're all beat up a little bit. That's football; you can't make excuses, you got to go out there and make the plays. For a guy being in his 13th season doing that, you got to take your hat off to him."

Coach Bill Belichick won't say Brown was in jeopardy of not making the team, but it is clear that entering training camp, others had gained ground on the Patriots' all-time-leading receiver.

That was before Brown started getting applause for sneezing.

''Well, I think he's looked a lot better in training camp than he looked this spring in the passing camps," Belichick said. ''I think he has really stepped it up a lot from that point. Maybe part of it was he wasn't here in the offseason program. I don't know.

''He's really looked good since the first day of training camp in terms of his quickness, his route-running ability, his timing with the different quarterbacks, especially Tom, but really all of them. He just had a really good camp. He's played well. He's been open, he's caught the ball, and he's made some yards after the catch on a consistent basis. It's not one game or one practice or one play, but it's just been consistent and that's what a lot of us have seen for a long time from that player."

Jerome Solomon can be reached at jsolomon@globe.com

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