FOXBORO - In three previous NFL seasons with the New York Jets, James Ihedigbo rolled up 49 tackles. Total.
In 15 games with the Patriots, the 28-year-old safety has been in on 69 stops.
The revolving door at the back of the Patriots defense has given opportunities to many. We can debate whether the door ushered out some good players. We can debate the merits of many who walked through it.
But we can generally agree that Ihedigbo has been a mostly decent addition. Not without flaw, certainly, but with significant upside as well.
"Very professional, smart guy, very professional," Bill Belichick raved Friday morning. "Did a real good job for us in the kicking game, well prepared on defense even though he didnt have a lot of defensive playing time early but hes one of those guys that always paid attention, knew what to do. You put him in there, he was on top of it. As hes gotten more of an opportunity to play, hes really shown that he communicates well, he makes quick decisions, I think he has good football instincts and understands the game whether its in the kicking game or defensively."
There are times Ihedigbo looks like a bumper car desperately in search of a bumpee.An injury timeoutbrought on by No. 44 propelling himself over, into or through a pile is a weekly occurrence. But he does have a grip on what he's doing, said Belichick.
"The kind of guy that you tell him once and he understands it or hell ask a question that's kind of one step ahead of your explanation," Belichick recounted. "Youre explaining something and then hes like, So if this happens, then would you want me to do this? Yeah, exactly, that would be the next thing to go to. Hes kind of thinking one step ahead like that. Hes been a real good addition to this team."
In addition to growing on the field in the regular defense and perhaps carving out a long-term future, Ihedigbo's simply a solid, likeable, communicative, honest guy.
Players reared in the Patriots' system have a leeriness of being candid. Probably because they've seen the stray nail that sticks up too high get pounded down by Belichick's hammer.
Ihedigbo didn't get the memo when he got to town. Interestingly, Belichick doesn't seem to care.
"I would say along the lines of Brian Waters, Andre Carter, Ihedigbo, are guys that have come onto this team from other teams that have showed a high degree of leadership as well as just being able to do their job, have some flexibility, throw different things at them but they can handle it, they can process it, it doesnt phase them, theyre able to make adjustments either quickly or in their role whatever it happens to be and approach the game with very professional and attitude," Belichick pointed out.
Interestingly, all three have been excellent at articulating the game and team's mindset to reporters in the locker room all year. Maybe it has something to do with their being brought up in other systems. Some of the most candid players in years gone by - Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel, for instance - started their careers elsewhere. Why that would be, I don't know. But they all exude confidence.
"Theyre well prepared, theyre calm under pressure," Belichick said of the Carter, Waters, Ihedigbo troika. "They can handle things flying around in a game that are different or a little bit unsettling but theyre able to handle those . . . When youve been through a year with a player, going through all the situations that you go through, you really appreciate that. I would say similar things about all three of those guys that we didnt know that we now know and I have a real appreciation for it."