FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As each day goes by and Derrick Burgess remains AWOL, the New England Patriots are starting to adjust to life without one of their starting outside linebackers.
Coach Bill Belichick said Monday he doesn't know where things stand with Burgess, who signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal in the offseason but reportedly has been considering retirement.
"I don't think he knows for sure," Belichick said.
There are five outside linebackers in camp: incumbent starter Tully Banta-Cain, the eighth-year pro who was the most pleasant surprise on defense last year with 10 sacks; Rob Ninkovich, in his fifth year, signed as a free agent last August; Pierre Woods, also in his fifth year, who has seen most of his action on special teams; former New York Jet Marques Murrell, signed as a free agent; and rookie Jermaine Cunningham, who was a defensive end at Florida.
"All five of those players have done some good things," Belichick said. "Tully's really picked up where he left off last year. He's gained a lot of experience and done a good job. He's having a good camp and taken over a little bit of a leadership role as well in terms of his experience. He has a lot of confidence and that carries over to Pierre (Woods) and Rob (Ninkovich), and they're definitely ahead of where they were last year."
Belichick said Cunningham and Murrell, a fourth-year player, have been picking things up very well.
"Definitely, you can see him (Cunningham) each day getting better and more confident," Belichick said.
Banta-Cain, a situational player until blossoming last season, bristled when asked if outside linebacker was the "thinnest" position on the team.
"If everyone does their job, there's no thin anywhere," he said. "That's what it comes down to -- everyone doing their job. We have the guys who are doing it and capable of doing the job. It's just a matter of execution."
Belichick and others point to Banta-Cain as a leader.
"I'm in my eighth year and I've been around this team for a while," Banta-Cain. "I'm familiar with the system and everything."
Ninkovich also was a bit of a surprise last season after being released by the New Orleans Saints and signed as a free agent. He played in 15 games.
"Any time you're released on the first day of training camp by a team, you're always going to be an underdog," he said. "Coming into a team, you have to prove yourself. You're little a bit behind in your playbook. So last year my mentality was to come in here and make a difference."
Notes: The Patriots filled two roster spots by signing a pair of free agents who practiced Monday -- tight end Carson Butler and wide receiver Rod Owens. Butler, 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, is a Michigan product and veteran of several NFL training camps. He brings the number of tight ends in camp to five. Owens caught 61 passes for Florida State last fall. He signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent in April and was released in May. ... Before practice Monday morning, veterans subjected rookies and some second-year players to the "pig drill," which involved players sliding through mud as water cascaded on them.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press