FOXBOROUGH -- Monty Beisel thought the transition from defensive end to linebacker early in his career was tough. It probably pales in comparison, however, to last year's transition from Kansas City Chief to New England Patriot.
Playing linebacker in the Patriots' defense for the first time was challenging enough, but to do it under the circumstances that unfolded through the season's first five games -- where he was suited up alongside fellow newcomer Chad Brown -- was almost over the top.
``It was difficult," said Beisel, after a recent workout at Gillette Stadium. ``Chad and I were both in the middle, we were new to the system, new to what we were trying to get done. Then we lose [Rodney] Harrison, then Richard [Seymour], and we have all our corners gone. The communication was tough.
``When things like that happened, we got very, very vanilla. I couldn't honestly say there was one time I had a designed blitz for the first six weeks of last season."
By the time some of the injured players returned, and the defense included more wrinkles, Beisel had lost his starting job and perhaps the faith of some of the team's followers. His current work is aimed at earning it back.
``I think I've put myself into a good position this offseason," said the 6-foot-3-inch Beisel, noting he's gained about 8 pounds from last season's playing weight of 238. ``I've been working real hard, cut down some of my body fat, put on some speed and strength, just become a better overall player. I feel year in and year out, if you're not getting better in this league, you're falling behind."
Simply entering his second year with the team is a big plus, both on the field and in the locker room, where ``it's a huge difference from a year ago." Last year, the 27-year-old Beisel played and practiced on the strong side, weak side, and on third down, with the three roles encompassing different responsibilities.
``One thing I learned in playing most [inside] positions in the linebacker corps was an understanding for this philosophy of linebacker and what they're looking for," said Beisel, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Chiefs. ``It's always an ongoing process. You talk to guys who have been in this defense for years, [Tedy] Bruschi and [Mike] Vrabel, and they'll tell you that."
One of the biggest adjustments for Beisel was slowing down. In Kansas City, he was trained to shoot gaps quickly in a 4-3 defense. In New England's 3-4, it was more important for him to read the play, then react. By the end of the 2005 season, when he filled in as a starter in a 28-3 wild-card playoff victory over the Jaguars, Beisel felt more comfortable with the change.
``There were a couple of times last year where you overrun some plays because you're used to playing with four defensive linemen and all of a sudden one guy is missing and you're overrunning a gap," he said. ``But I think as the season went on, it got better. I've always been the type of guy who likes to utilize my speed from the linebacker position."
Beisel said he's spoken with new defensive coordinator Dean Pees and was given an indication he might be utilized differently in 2006, possibly to better take advantage of his speed. Beisel has also spent time with the team's new linebackers coach, Matt Patricia.
``I think it's going to be really good [with Matt]," Beisel said. ``That's one thing they talk about around here, when people come and people go, the transition is always smooth. I think it's been seamless so far."
That's not the only change among the linebackers, of course. Willie McGinest's free agent departure has created a void and one of the team's more important questions is: Who will become the fourth starting linebacker? Bruschi, Vrabel, and Rosevelt Colvin are atop the depth chart, with Vrabel's flexibility to play both inside and outside leaving the team several options. If Vrabel returns to his natural outside spot opposite Colvin, Beisel is a top candidate to start next to Bruschi inside. Brown is out of the mix, having been released in March.
``We lost Willie McGinest, which is going to be tough," said Beisel, who projects to compete against Ryan Claridge (2005 fifth-round pick), second-year player Eric Alexander, free agent signees Barry Gardner and Jeremy Loyd, and returning veterans Larry Izzo and Don Davis for playing time at inside linebacker.
``Now we have to move some guys around, shift them in, and continue to work as a whole. I think we have a bunch of linebackers who can work really well together.
``Last year was a challenge, with how the season unfolded for me. It was frustrating. But it doesn't change anything. Every offseason my job is to come back here and try to be the best I can be. If I don't do that year in and year out, I shouldn't be in this profession. I always come back with an open mind. It's a new season, a new group of guys, and you try to make it happen."