Lineman progressing in switch to linebacker
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Dan Klecko entered the NFL hoping to follow his father as a top defensive lineman.
Instead, he's emulating Patriots teammate Tedy Bruschi, who made a successful transition from being a college lineman to an NFL linebacker.
Klecko is doing well at inside linebacker and played more aggressively in New England's second exhibition game last Saturday night than in its first. He's learning to read defenses from his new position and adjusting to covering receivers in his second pro season.
"There's stuff I'm still seeing that I've never seen before from back there," Klecko said Wednesday. "I've never seen that in high school, college. For the first time, I'm seeing it in the NFL and that's kind of tough."
Klecko is 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs 275 pounds and coach Bill Belichick prefers bigger defensive linemen. Of the 10 on the roster, none is shorter than 6-2 or lighter than 285.
The linebacking corps, with all four starters aged 29 or older, can use some youth.
One veteran, the 31-year-old Bruschi, tied the NCAA Division I-A career sack record with 52 as a defensive end at Arizona. He played linebacker as a rookie in 1996 and was second on the Patriots in tackles last season.
"I can really relate. It's weird because I can see him making the same mistakes I made when I was first starting," Bruschi said. "I know exactly how he feels."
When he was drafted in 2003 in the fourth round out of Temple, Klecko was known as the son of former New York Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko as well as for his outstanding college play.
"He tries to help me with little things he knows because he was a real student of the game," Klecko said of his father. "He's basically just always on my side."
Klecko also is winning over Belichick.
"He's doing pretty well, a lot better than a lot of guys that have played (inside linebacker) a lot longer," Belichick said. "He's still got a long ways to go. I'm not talking about Dick Butkus here right now but I think he's done well."
Few linebackers were as good as Butkus was with Chicago, but Klecko also has played well on special teams and blocked from the fullback position.
"He's not one-dimensional," said tight end Christian Fauria, who sits next to Klecko in the locker room. "I think when you're in college you become one-dimensional because they say, `OK, you're going to play this position.'
"When you get to the pros it gets a little more personalized and they start to see maybe things that you can do that you never did in college," he said, "and they start to give you a chance to do that."
Last season, Klecko played in 13 games, starting one of them at nose tackle. He also was the fullback on five of New England's nine touchdown runs.
But it's much easier to be the lead blocker for a running back than to learn the intricacies of playing linebacker so well that he can react to a play without thinking.
"I'm hitting the hole faster, but there's still some things I see and I kind of need to take a second to think about it," Klecko said. "I also give myself a little leeway because I've only played two real games at it and, hopefully, I'll get a little more time to learn it than that."
He tries to pick up tips wherever he can.
"He's really eager. He comes and asks me a lot of questions, sometimes too many," Bruschi said with a laugh. "Sometimes I just wish he'd leave me alone."
But Bruschi went through the same learning process himself.
"I can relate to it," he said. "I know how difficult it is, but give him a year or two under his belt and he can be a quality player."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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