FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) – Troy Brown ran out for the pass in a Patriots uniform, a simple move he had made thousands of times in his 12 years with the team.

In this training camp, it seems special.

He’s a full-time wide receiver now, no longer doing double duty as a defensive back, and he’s still wearing the jersey of the team he wants to spend his entire career with after he spurned a richer contract offer from New Orleans.

“It’s always a little bit of uncertainty when you got into free agency,” Brown said. “The thought did cross my mind that I may have played my last game, but that’s a part of the business. But things worked out in the end.”

Brown has progressed from an undersized eighth-round draft choice in 1993 to become one of New England’s most valuable players, a captain and key contributor to three Super Bowl wins in the last four years. It hasn’t been easy.

The Patriots waived him in his second training camp then re-signed him two months later. They let him become a free agent four times, the last after this year’s Super Bowl to save almost $5 million in salary cap space.

The Saints courted him, but he re-signed last May 23 rather than move on for the last few years of his career. His two sons – Sir’mon and SaanJay – pushed him to stay.

“It made my decision a whole lot easier,” Brown said. “It’s great. People love us and why leave that?”

His playing time at receiver is uncertain, although he’s performed well in camp. He caught 17 passes in 12 games last season, and the Patriots added David Terrell to go with Deion Branch and David Givens at that position.

Brown’s role as a kick returner could diminish after the team picked up Chad Morton and Tim Dwight.

They also added plenty of defensive backs, so Brown hasn’t been working out there. Last year he filled in at that position when injuries piled up.

“It got a little hard there, but that’s part of football,” Brown said. “Sometimes you’ve got to dig deeper to come up with the energy and the plays you need to make.”

There’s less chance of that happening this season than last, although he did make three interceptions in 2004.

“That was an emergency, desperation type of situation,” coach Bill Belichick said, “and, of course, Troy handled it extremely well and very professionally, like he always does, but he’s a better receiver than he is a defensive back.”

His teammates admire his unselfishness, leadership and ability to come up with big plays.

“He’s a consummate professional and that’s something you don’t see a lot of nowadays,” safety Rodney Harrison said. “Just to see a guy maintain such professionalism and not complain one time, always working hard, always doing the right thing. Troy is what the NFL should represent.”

Branch played the last three seasons with Brown and was MVP of last season’s Super Bowl. He doesn’t mind being a leader, but he’s glad Brown is still filling that role.

“He’s like a big brother, great guidance for me,” Branch said. “I still look at Troy as “the guy’ on our team.”

And, at age 34, he’s healthy. With 475 catches, Brown needs 60 to pass Stanley Morgan as the team’s all-time leading receiver. Its unlikely he’ll come close to his most productive seasons, 83 receptions in 2000, 101 in 2001 when he made his only Pro Bowl, and 97 in 2002.

But “he hasn’t lost a step,” tight end Christian Fauria said. “His routes are just as crisp and his hands are just as good.”

Brown’s contributions are measured in his hard work, ability to see holes when returning kicks and setting an example for younger players about how to carry themselves on and off the field.

“I’m never satisfied with what I’ve done,” Brown said. “There’s always something I can find to get better and my thing now is trying to be more consistent.

“You can’t look too far ahead or look in the past. Just live for the moment, man. Right now. Enjoy what each day brings.”

AP-ES-08-10-05 1857EDT


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