FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Tedy Bruschi’s stall in the New England Patriots’ locker room remains intact, and he still comes by to attend meetings or work out.

He’s still on the New England roster and still there if teammates need his expertise; now that teammate Ted Johnson is retired and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is the head coach in Cleveland, it’s doubtful anyone but coach Bill Belichick knows the Patriots defense better.

But Patriots players say they give Bruschi wide berth these days – partly to allow him to rehab from the stroke that might yet end his career, and partly because there’s no point in dwelling on the Pro Bowl linebacker’s absence.

“We have a lot of respect and love for Bruschi. But he’s gone,” safety Rodney Harrison said this week as the Super Bowl champions prepared for their third exhibition game. “That’s unfortunate for us, but we have to move on. Just like if I got injured they’d have to move on without me. That’s just part of the game. That’s reality.”

The Patriots have won three NFL championships in the past four years, and that doesn’t leave much time for sentimentality.

In 2001, the season of their first Super Bowl titles, the Patriots sent franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe to the curb – even after he almost died from an on-field hit – because Tom Brady just kept winning. Since then, there has been a steady stream of stalwarts heading out, including Lawyer Milloy, Ted Washington and Damien Woody.

This year, the Patriots’ losses include their offensive and defensive coordinators in addition to cornerback Ty Law and offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi. But nowhere is the void bigger than at linebacker, where Bruschi, Johnson and Roman Phifer are gone; Mike Vrabel has missed time in training camp because of an undisclosed injury.

“You lose a great player,” linebacker Rosevelt Colvin said of Bruschi. “He’s a playmaker. He’s a guy that has been one of the faces of the franchise, and a tremendous leader on and off the field.

“Unfortunately, he’s not on the field with us. But that’s the reality we have to deal with. It’s not going to help us” to worry about it. “Everybody’s got to go out and take care of their jobs.”

A 250-pound defensive lineman at Arizona who was converted to linebacker as a rookie in 1996, Bruschi had a knack for being around the ball. He was second on the team in total tackles last season with 122; in 136 games over his career, he has 753 tackles, 25 sacks, 11 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles.

But he suffered a stroke 10 days after the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in the Super Bowl – just three days after playing in his first Pro Bowl. He has largely refrained from commenting, and attempts to reach him through his agent and the team’s media relations department were unsuccessful.

The Patriots put Bruschi on the physically unable to perform list, which allows them to pay him his $850,000 salary this year, and he has been working out at Gillette Stadium. His activities are reportedly more along the lines of rehabbing from the stroke than getting into football shape.

“This is the best place for him because we know him the best,” Belichick said this week. “We know what his workout levels are. How to challenge him and how to monitor him and how to treat any problems that he would have doing it just like any other player. Basically, whatever he’s doing, he’s doing here.”

But Bruschi hasn’t been on the practice field, and he hasn’t been seen in the locker room during the periods it’s open to the media.

Belichick will speak glowingly about Bruschi and what he meant to the team, but the New England coach doesn’t waste too much time worrying about it. For now, Bruschi’s role is to get better, though they have discussed getting the rehabbing linebacker more involved.

“Tedy is here. He’s here on a daily basis. Certainly any player that would want to go up to Tedy and say, Hey what about this? What about that? How did you read this play? How would you play this coverage?’ Tedy would, I’m sure, help him in any way that he possibly could,” Belichick said.

“As far as just having the responsibility or the accountability to take a certain group, coach them and do anything specific with them, we haven’t done that and I don’t think we’re at that point now. … The situation may change.

“He’s been doing what he’s been doing. Really everybody else has been pretty busy doing what they’re doing. We feel like at this point that is the best thing for everybody involved. That may change later on during the season. I’m not saying it will. I’m not saying it won’t. But it could.”

AP-ES-08-28-05 1256EDT


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