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Rotational forces

Nothing weak about Patriots' Seau-Bruschi platoon

Tedy Bruschi (left) and Junior Seau: the new face of inside linebacking.
Tedy Bruschi (left) and Junior Seau: the new face of inside linebacking. (Globe Photo Illustration)

FOXBOROUGH - Simply mention their names, and there is no shortage of words to describe their style of play and career accomplishments.

Tedy Bruschi: Leadership. Toughness. Big plays. Passion.

Junior Seau: Experience. Work ethic. Tackles. Energy.

So what happens when a Bruschi is mixed with a Seau at the inside linebacker position in the Patriots' 3-4 defense? What happens when 30 impressive NFL seasons merge into one?

The answer was on display in Sunday's victory over the Bills, and figures to be in the coming weeks as Bruschi and Seau continue to split snaps as part of the linebacker rotation.

Seau played 32 of a possible 50 snaps against the Bills, while Bruschi played 22, a breakdown that sheds light on how the Patriots are employing their linebackers. Bruschi played more early (18 first-half snaps), while Seau had 22 of his snaps in the second half.

Bruschi started at the weak-side inside spot, lining up next to strong-side inside linebacker Adalius Thomas. When a sub defense was called upon in passing situations, Bruschi would come off the field in favor of Seau.

"We've broken it up differently from time to time, but we have confidence in all three guys," said coach Bill Belichick of the inside linebacker rotation. "They can all play the run, play the pass, rush, they're all instinctive, they communicate well, they can run the defense. I think that Tedy, AD, and Junior have given us good play in there, physical play."

The Bruschi-Seau mix is of particular interest because both players are nearing the end of distinguished careers - Bruschi now 34 and Seau 38. They aren't playing as much as they did in some previous years, willing to swallow their ego for the betterment of the team, but are still productive when called upon.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 247-pound Bruschi has been credited by the team's coaches with 13 tackles (8 solo) and one quarterback hit, while the 6-3, 250-pound Seau is tied for third on the team with 16 tackles (12 solo) and one quarterback hit.

Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson said the combination reminds him of how the team used to employ veteran Roman Phifer in the 2001-04 seasons, often rotating him with Bruschi at inside linebacker. Johnson likes the 1-2 punch of Bruschi and Seau.

"They both bring different attributes, both are unique, but I also see some similarities," he said. "I think they're both risk takers, they'll take their chances, and both are playmakers. They'll still come up with the big play."

From a tactical standpoint, Johnson said, the weak-side inside linebacker usually has to do more than the strong-side inside linebacker in the Patriots' scheme. Where the strong-side inside linebacker is generally playing "downhill" toward the line of scrimmage, the weak-side inside linebacker is just as apt to be in pass coverage as surging toward the line.

He noted that if players like Colts running back Joseph Addai or Eagles running back Brian Westbrook motion out of the backfield, that would likely mean that Bruschi or Seau would drop back to help defend them.

When it comes to Bruschi and Seau, their résumés speak for themselves.

Bruschi has played 182 career games (including playoffs), and with 23 more tackles he will reach 1,000 for his career. He's a three-time Super Bowl champion and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004.

Seau has played in 250 games (including playoffs), has 1,810 career tackles and 53 sacks, and is a 12-time Pro Bowler.

On four snaps this past Sunday, the two were on the field together, side by side, with Bruschi shifting to the strong side. On two series, Seau replaced Bruschi on early downs, playing next to Thomas (41 snaps) in the base defense.

"Junior still has great speed and ability, and you see his want-to, which is remarkable after all these years, and Tedy is just a key cog in there, still able to make plays, and he's a gifted pass rusher, too," Johnson said.

"With Adalius, you kind of know what you're getting, and you have that stability and continuity. That allows Coach Belichick to have more flexibility with his weak-side inside linebacker."

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com

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