April 12, 2006
Is Beisel The Answer At Inside Linebacker?
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2005 New England Patriots. Today: linebackers.
Our first introduction to Monty Beisel was in the form of his beauty queen bride, and the handsomest looking couple this side of Brad and Jennifer.
For those who might not have seen Beisel play while with the Kansas City Chiefs, it was quite an introduction. Those pictures of Beisel and his new bride, Amanda Carraway, who is a former Miss Kansas, turned quite a few heads. (Naturally, it was the pictures of Mrs. Beisel that turned the heads rather than the nice wedding picture of the two of them.) If Beisel could get a beauty like that to the altar, he must be one heckuva linebacker, thought Patriot Nation.
With the retirement of Ted Johnson a year ago, combined with the prospect of the permanent loss of Tedy Bruschi, Beisel was being brought in to be a major contributor to the 2005 Patriots, and would be counted on to produce and produce big. Beisel, along with veteran Chad Brown, would become the new inside linebacker tandem which would replace Johnson and Bruschi, the latter of whom seemed ready to follow Johnson into retirement due to the stroke he suffered in February of 2005.
Beisel would go on to have an uneven year in 2005. Bringing his hard-hitting reputation to Foxborough, he did have some plays where he laid some hard hits on opposing ball carriers. But he was plagued with occasional mistakes, largely in poor tackling angles and not fully understanding the system. Beisel started the first five games of 2005, then did not start again until the season finale against Miami. He would start the playoff game against Jacksonville, but not the Divisional Round game against Denver.
Beisel’s rough season came to a head on November 30th, following a 26-16 loss to Kansas City. He got into an intense and very public shouting match with Tom Curran of the Providence Journal-Bulletin after Curran criticized him in a recent article. Beisel shouted, “Why do you have to come to my locker and rub it in? That’s your professionalism? You slash me in front of everybody? What kind of (expletive) is that?" Beisel then unloaded on Patriots media guru Stacey James, saying “How are you going to let him come over to my locker like that? You’re not supposed to be allowing that (expletive). You’re not supposed to make me look bad. I’m a PR guy myself."
This conversation made its way to the airwaves, with Curran doing his best to diffuse a potential brawl. Curran could be heard to say “I’m going to do the smart thing right now and walk away!” But it cast Beisel in the wrong light, and based upon Brown’s reaction to his own learning curve, it made Beisel look worse.
Brown, who enjoyed four great years in the Pittsburgh zone blitz before heading to Seattle as a free agent, admitted that he wasn’t picking up the Patriot system as fast as he would like. Brown never complained, nor did he have any run-ins with the media. Brown’s learning curve at age 35 (by comparison, Roman Phifer was 33 when he joined the Patriots in 2001) was a little different than most other linebackers, and the Patriots wound up releasing Brown at the end of the season.
With Johnson and Phifer both gone (it looked like the Patriots might try to bring back Phifer for 2005, but he wound up seeing limited action for the Giants instead), it was very fortunate for the Patriots that Bruschi was able to make it back into the lineup. Bruschi had a procedure done to repair a congenital hole in his heart, and he was pronounced ready to resume his NFL career by his doctors.
And resume his career he did. He came back on October 30th at home against Buffalo, and the defense seemed to come back to life when he returned. He would miss two games the rest of the way, including the home playoff win against Jacksonville. But Bruschi seems all the way back, and has not experienced any stroke-related problems since suffering the stroke shortly after the 2005 Pro Bowl. Bruschi’s return was one of the top stories of 2005, to say the least, but it may turn out to be one of the top stories of the last twenty years.
Mike Vrabel did some time in filling in at the inside position in 2005. But with the departure of Willie McGinest as a free agent to Cleveland, Vrabel figures to stay in his outside position for 2006. Along with fellow outside backer Rosevelt Colvin, the Patriots are very strong at the outside and, barring injury, should form one of the best tandems in the league. Vrabel remains one of the smartest Patriots on the team, and did admirably in filling in as a middle backer. Colvin looks all the way back from his scary hip injury in 2003.
Larry Izzo, Tully Banta-Cain and Don Davis look to remain special teams stalwarts. One has to wonder about Banta-Cain, who seems to have no chance to start with the Patriots with Vrabel and Colvin ahead of him, but that doesn’t seem to bother the former California Golden Bear who came on with such fanfare after being a seventh round pick in 2003. Matt Chatham has taken his act to the Meadowlands and will toil for Eric Mangini, but like the others mentioned, was more known for his special teams work than his linebacker work.
And don’t forget Dan Klecko, who could be mentioned in as many as three different areas. The fullback/lineman/linebacker could still some day show a yin for a middle linebacker job, if he ever reaches his potential, or at least the potential that Bill Belichick and his staff sees in him. He remains good at several things but not great at anything. But his work ethic and pedigree keep him around, at least for now.
Belichick doesn’t have a history of using draft picks on linebackers (only three since taking over as Patriot head coach). He did select Ryan Claridge last year out of UNLV in the fifth round, but Claridge spent most of the year out injured. He needs to stay healthy in training camp and show everyone what he can do.
Beisel will be a man on the spot if he turns out to be the favorite to be alongside Bruschi in the starting lineup in 2006. He needs to show that he has learned the system, and he needs to keep his cool if things go bad.
And he needs to keep laying the wood to opposing backs. There is no question that he can do at least that much.
Next installment: secondary.
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