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Sports

April 28, 2008

Belichick earns A+ for changing his ways

On Pro Football

Hector Longo

FOXBORO — Grades will be cast from coast to coast on the 2008 Patriots draft.

Ultimately, the only grades that matter will be cast three or more years from now, when Jerod Mayo and the six other New England Patriots selections have exhausted their opportunities to shine.

From this corner, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli and Patriots management deserve an A+ — their best grade since 2000 when this group unearthed one Tom Brady in Round 6.

Three linebackers and two corners sprinkled in with a late-round quarterback and receiver.

Belichick absolutely changed his draft tactics, going against every conservative notion the man has ever entertained.

Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends and the occasional offensive skill players. It's a formula Belichick and the Pats have molded into a perennial championship contender, one that was made possible by Brady's presence.

This year was different, though. In 2008, Belichick needed to adapt, something that has turned a fine coaching career up until 1999 into a road to Canton and the Hall of Fame when he decides to hang up the whistle once and for all.

His defense ages by the day, and week to week, it slowed to a crawl during the 2007 season.

The coach took giant steps to remedy that, both Saturday and yesterday, with the additions of Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable in Round 3 and Auburn burner Jonathan Wilhite, a cornerback by trade, in the fourth round.

Even the final pick, sixth-round linebacker Bo Ruud out of Nebraska, is an injection of athleticism on defense.

It's not that panic had stricken here at Gillette Stadium, forcing Belichick into a state of absent-mindedness. The man understands he's got a juggernaut on his hands, albeit in need of slight retooling.

Even he took a shot at himself yesterday, noting the different nature of this draft.

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