FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Chad Brown joined the Super Bowl champs as a three-time Pro Bowl player with a major challenge: fill the vacancy left after Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke.

His role became even more important when the New England Patriots’ other starting inside linebacker, Ted Johnson, retired the day before training camp began.

At age 35, Brown had to move from outside linebacker, learn a complex defensive system and prepare for a very tough schedule, which started Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders.

“You feel the pressure in that the expectations are extra high around here,” he said. “My personal expectations are high for myself, but I cannot, on opening day, be Tedy Bruschi from 2004.”

Bruschi spent the last nine seasons with the Patriots, developing into a vocal leader who was outstanding against the pass and the run and had an excellent understanding of the defensive schemes. He suffered the stroke 10 days after the Super Bowl win over Philadelphia, but works out in the weight room and plans to play next season.

New England still had Johnson, though. Then he decided to retire because of many concussions suffered during his 11 seasons. That put even more of a burden on Brown to learn the system.

“I’m getting fairly comfortable.” he said. “I certainly hope to start well, but I certainly hope to be better six weeks, 12 weeks further along.”

Brown was limited by injuries to seven games last year with Seattle, where he spent the past eight seasons after playing four with Pittsburgh. He was in the Pro Bowl after the 1996, 1998 and 1999 seasons and had 78 career sacks, more than any other active linebacker.

“I expect to do well. My coaches and teammates expect me to do well, but I can only be Chad,” he said, not Bruschi or Johnson.

The Patriots signed Brown last May 10, less than a month after picking up linebacker Monty Beisel, who spent his four NFL seasons with Kansas City, but didn’t start a game until last year.

New England hopes he can join Brown as effective starting replacements for Bruschi and Johnson.

Beisel said he and Brown “spent a lot of time in the offseason preparing, a lot of time in the preseason. It’s definitely an ongoing process.”

Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel also worked at the inside spot during training camp and is expected to get some time there.

“We’ll find out … as this season progresses,” Vrabel said.

“We’ve always had the ability to change things simply to give us the best chance to win. It’s not done just to get a guy into the game.”

He’s starting his fifth season with the Patriots. Willie McGinest, the other starting outside linebacker, is beginning his 12th.

Their presence and knowledge should help Brown and Beisel adjust.

“Obviously, they’re pretty good ballplayers for our organization to bring them here,” McGinest said. “We just communicate. We just try to let them know what’s going on. We’ve got one thing on the field with us on defense. You can never talk too much.

“This is a new system for them,” he said. “Everybody’s talking just to make sure everybody knows what to do.”

AP-ES-09-08-05 1756EDT

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