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Super Bowl champs start training camp
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FOXBORO, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had few holes after winning their second Super Bowl in three seasons. They filled them and open training camp Thursday with a team that could be better than last year's.

They shored up two of their weakest positions by trading for running back Corey Dillon and signing punter Josh Miller. Then they drafted nose tackle Vince Wilfork from Miami after Ted Washington left for Oakland.

With young but experienced players at most positions and two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, the Patriots start camp with a decent chance of becoming the eighth team to win consecutive NFL championships.

If they win their first four games, they'll set an NFL record of 19 consecutive victories. They would tie the record Miami set when it went 17-0 in 1972 then won its opener the next year if they beat Indianapolis on Sept. 9 in Foxboro then Arizona and Buffalo on the road.

Then they could break the record on Oct. 10 at home against the team that set it, the Dolphins.

But there will be plenty of training camp workouts before then, starting with Thursday afternoon's at Gillette Stadium.

Dillon should help a running attack that averaged fewer yards per game than 26 of the 32 teams. He also should take pressure off Brady and make Kevin Faulk more effective as a third-down back than in the bigger role he played last season.

Miller, released by Pittsburgh, replaces inconsistent Ken Walter.

Like Brady, who is just 26 but entering his fifth pro season, the Patriots have plenty of young players who already have contributed.

On the defensive line, Richard Seymour is one of the NFL's best after three seasons, and Ty Warren, last year's first-round pick is expected to play an increased role.

In the secondary, Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel are coming off strong rookie seasons, and the Patriots added Guss Scott, Dexter Reid and Christian Morton in the draft. A disagreement with Ty Law appears to have cooled down.

At wide receiver, Deion Branch and David Givens are coming off productive second seasons and rookie Bethel Johnson had 16 catches and led the AFC in kickoff return average.

The tight-end position also is deep with third-year pro Daniel Graham, a strong blocker, first-round draft pick Benjamin Watson and Christian Fauria.

The offensive line lost center-guard Damien Woody, who signed with Detroit, but Dan Koppen had a strong rookie season at center and four of last year's five starters have played no more than three pro seasons.

The oldest position on the team is linebacker, where Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Roman Phifer and Mike Vrabel have a combined 47 years experience. But second-year pros Dan Klecko and Tully Banta-Cain should have expanded roles.

And pass rusher Rosevelt Colvin, who missed most of last season with a hip injury, could make a contribution at some point.

The most important returnee is coach Bill Belichick, whose Patriots went 5-11 in 2000, his first season, then 11-5, 9-7 and 14-2 in his next three regular seasons. His firm, businesslike approach has helped the team develop into a group that emphasizes teamwork over individual egos.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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