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Burgess works on hurry-up defense

New Patriot is trying to be a fast learner

By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / August 27, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Everything has been a rush for Derrick Burgess in his first three weeks as a Patriot.

On the field, his job description has been straightforward: rush the passer off the left defensive edge. Burgess has not played in the base defense, just sub packages.

Off the field, he is in a rush as well: to bone up on the playbook.

“I’m still kind of playing catch-up,’’ said Burgess. “I’m behind from having not been here. It’s a work in progress.

“I like the organization, I like what they’re doing, and I like what the coaches have in mind. So I’m all for it.’’

Since he was acquired by the Patriots Aug. 6, Burgess has been running his own version of the hurry-up, participating in every practice and both preseason games. He has one tackle but has yet to deliver in the area he was targeted to boost: the pass rush.

His early impressions of life in New England?

“Foxborough is a nice little town, a football town,’’ he said. “You can focus on what you’re supposed to do.’’

After four years in Oakland - an organization that constantly seems to make headlines for all the wrong reasons - that has been a blessing for the 31-year-old Burgess.

At this stage of his career, he appreciates the low-key, highly structured environment.

“I’m up in numbers in my career, and it feels good to know you have a chance,’’ said Burgess, who has to look only to the locker to his right - Tedy Bruschi’s - for a tutorial on the Patriots’ approach. “You go into a game with a sound plan and hopefully you can execute the plan and win ballgames. That’s good optimism to have.’’

Such optimism wasn’t always there in Oakland, where the Raiders posted a 15-49 record after Burgess signed a lucrative free agent contract in 2005. Still, Burgess is quick to defend his former teammates when he reflects on his time in the Black Hole.

“The hardest part was losing games, the losing records, but at the same time it was a great bunch of guys I had out there with me,’’ he said. “One thing I can say about them is that they never quit. It was always a fight. We didn’t win, but we had the players regardless.’’

Tomorrow night’s preseason game against the Redskins in Washington represents a homecoming of sorts for Burgess, who went to high school in Greenbelt, Md. Burgess currently makes his residence in Mississippi, where he settled after attending Ole Miss. That’s where he met fellow Ole Miss alum BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has helped smooth his transition to the Patriots, along with former NFL teammates Randy Moss (Raiders) and Greg Lewis (Eagles).

Another familiar face was coach Bill Belichick, whom Burgess said he has long admired. The chance to play for Belichick was something he’d long considered, and one of the first times the two connected was at the Pro Bowl following the 2006 season.

“It impressed me the way he coached the Pro Bowl,’’ said Burgess. “We were all there having fun, but he still wanted to win the game, which is how I felt. That’s what I liked. Even before that, I liked his approach to the game, when we prepared to play them during the season.’’

As for how Belichick plans to employ Burgess, even Burgess isn’t sure, but to this point he has been solely a defensive end in an all-rush, all-the-time role. Burgess hasn’t been asked to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, which some projected would be his spot in a base defense.

For his part, Burgess said he’ll do whatever is asked of him. He’s just enjoying being part of a new team, one quite different from his former one.

“I see it as a privilege,’’ he said. “I’m playing football, the sport I love, and we’re trying to do some big things. I’m happy to be here.’’

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