FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – With his focus on the season opener Thursday night, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick still can look forward to something good in 2006 – the return of linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

Belichick said Friday discussions he’s had with Bruschi, who suffered a mild stroke in February, are similar to the player’s comments in a published interview that he would play in 2006 after skipping the 2005 season.

“I support whatever Tedy does 100 percent. He’s part of the family. We all love him,” Belichick said in a conference call. “The comments that he made are consistent with what we talked about in the past, so we’re going to proceed on that course.”

Bruschi is on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he must miss the first six games of the season that begins with a home game against the Oakland Raiders. He said in the Boston Globe interview that there’s no chance he would play this season, but “I’m definitely playing next year.

“That’s my ace in the hole. It’s a little hard to sit back and watch the guys (this season), but it’s easier knowing I’ve got something to look forward to.”

He has been a vocal and emotional leader of the Patriots teams that won three of the last four Super Bowls, including the last two. He also called defensive signals and was outstanding against both the run and the pass.

He suffered a stroke 10 days after the 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in the Super Bowl – just three days after playing in his first Pro Bowl. He is being paid his $850,000 salary this year and has been working out at Gillette Stadium.

Bruschi broke his silence about his future in an interview with the Globe at his home in North Attleboro.

He said the stroke resulted from a blood clot that doctors believe traveled through a small hole in his heart. He also said he underwent a procedure in March to repair the hole and that the origin and cause of the clot have not been determined.

Another inside linebacker, Ted Johnson, retired before training camp last month. Offseason acquisitions Chad Brown and Monty Beisel are the starting inside linebackers.

By 6 p.m. Saturday, the Patriots must reduce their roster to the regular-season limit of 53 players. Belichick said some players improved their chances in Thursday night’s 27-3 loss to the New York Giants in both teams’ final exhibition game.

“I’d really rather not get into it on a case-by-case basis,” Belichick said when asked who they were.

Many regular starters didn’t dress for the game, giving Belichick a long look at players who were still trying to make the team. But he said the fact that some players didn’t dress didn’t necessarily mean they all had made the team.

“I’m not confirming that, no,” he said.

He also said that what the Patriots gave up to get a player wouldn’t affect that player’s chances of staying on the roster. So a player wouldn’t have a better chance just because he was acquired for a third-round draft pick, for example, while another player was signed as a veteran free agent.

“Once the players walk onto the field at the start of training camp, it doesn’t matter whether the guy played Division 1 or Division 6 (in college), was in 12 Pro Bowls or was a rookie free agent,” Belichick said. “What he does in your system on the football field” is much more important.

Then he referred to the release last Monday of quarterback Rohan Davey, running back Cedric Cobbs and safety Dexter Reid.

“We cut three fourth-round picks a couple of days ago,” Belichick said. “I don’t know if you consider those significant picks or not. Whatever it is, it’s based on what a player’s performance is out on the field.”

AP-ES-09-02-05 2022EDT

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