Patriots

Ex-Patriots LB Vrabel gets a trial run at stopping Brady

Ex-Patriots LB Vrabel gets a trial run at stopping Brady

As a player, Mike Vrabel was always the smartest guy in the room. Or on the field. Just ask him. But that confidence was well-founded because he was that player. Thus, Vrabel’s rapid rise in the coaching ranks - he’s now the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans - was predictable for those who saw him make that same rise as a player in New England, where he went from Steelers castoff to cornerstone piece in a dynasty.

“Mike had a lot of great qualities as a player, so yeah, no surprise,” Bill Belichick said earlier this week. 

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“It won’t be long before he’s a head coach,” Tom Brady said. “He’s just got a great presence. He was a great player for us.”

“I think he’s doing a good job,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien, himself a former Patriot staffer and offensive coordinator. “He’s very organized, detailed, works very hard. He’s got a great way with the players, so I think so far, so good.”

In his matter-of-fact way, Vrabel confirmed what Belichick, Brady and O’Brien said about him.

“I’m not cut out to do much other than play football and now coach football,” he said. “It took me nine years to graduate from Ohio State, if that tells you anything.”

Vrabel and Brady spoke for about 10 minutes following the Pats and Texans joint practice in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Wednesday, smiling, laughing and no doubt needling each other about who got the best of who in these sessions.

“He’s been one of my great friends for a long time,” said Brady. “It’s nice to see him out there. There’s a little friendly talk back and forth, which is always fun. I love the guy and what he’s accomplished.”

“Tom’s a phenomenal leader, a good friend,” Vrabel said. 

That friendship will have to be tabled in Week 3 of the regular season. That's the first time Vrabel will be the lead dog game-planning to stop Brady and the Pats offense. The former Ohio State standout and Buckeyes assistant coach spent the previous three seasons in Houston as a linebackers coach, but now as the defensive coordinator, the buck stops with him. 

“They beat our ass the last couple of times we’ve played them, so it’s been hard to sit over on the other sidelines, but I think to be able to practice against them and see them in somewhat of a relaxed setting, it’s great,” said Vrabel, reflecting on the joint practice. “Hopefully we can be a little bit more competitive this year against them.”

That won’t be easy. The Pats added explosive wideout Brandin Cooks, along with a couple of versatile backs in Rex Burkhead and Mike Gilislee. Mix that into an offense that was already at the head of the class, and you can see why Vrabel will probably have a few sleepless nights prior to that Sept. 24 meeting in Foxboro, especially after what he just saw in mid-August.

“Well, it’s as advertised,” he said. “There’s a lot of weapons, led by Tom [Brady]. Josh [McDaniels] calls a great game over there and it was good because nothing was scripted and we all kind of had to just come up with the calls on the fly and think fast, just like a game.”

Having the think the game and match wits with Brady, McDaniels, Belichick, etc, has overwhelmed many over the years, but to hear Belichick talk about his former charge, you understand Vrabel is different.

“He played a lot of positions on defense,” said Belichick. “He played everything in the kicking game and also did a lot for us on offense, playing tight end in short-yardage situations. He could call signals, he had great leadership, was a multi-year captain, so his leadership, his presence, his communication, awareness, situational awareness in addition to just being a good football player, but those things were traits that carried over into coaching. And Mike's one of the physically and mentally toughest players I’ve ever coached, so I’m sure that will serve him well in this profession, too. There are times when you need that.”

Like, say, when you’re trying to outthink the Pats game day braintrust? Save the date. That one should be fun.


 

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

Julio Jones presents Johnson Bademosi opportunity to prove he's not niche player

None of us thought Johnson Bademosi would be starting this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium against the Jets because -- well -- that’s not what we perceive the 27-year-old to be. He’s a special teamer. It’s how he’s made his mark in the NFL dating back to 2012 with Cleveland. So why would that change in mid-October for a team he’s only been with for six weeks? Because Bademosi is -- and has always been -- intent on proving he’s more than a niche player.

“I see myself as a football player,” he said, “and whatever position they put me in, I’m going to try to be the best because that’s how I operate and who I am as a person. Whether that’s as a cornerback, on special teams, if they ask me to play wildcat quarterback. Whatever…”

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Bill Belichick and his staff asked for Bademosi to go on the field and not come off. He played 73 defensive snaps in addition to his usual core four special teams duties. 

“I felt like I played a whole game,” Bademosi joked, before saying, “I love playing football so I’m going to go out there and empty myself.”

He did just that, getting targeted only two times in the 24-17 win over the Jets. It was hoped that Bademosi would return to his normal specialist role, but with Stephon Gilmore still out with a concussion, it now seems more and more likely that the sixth year pro will have to be an ironman again Sunday night in primetime against the Falcons. Historically, the Pats have defended bigger receivers. That means Bademosi may be responsible for one of the most dangerous players in the league, Julio Jones.

“He’s an amazing player," he said. “We all know what he’s capable of. As a defense, we have to be prepared for him.”

The Pats were on Super Bowl Sunday and Jones still made a couple of ridiculous plays with either Logan Ryan or Eric Rowe in coverage with safety help over the top.

“He’s fast. He’s physical. He can jump. He can run. He’s smart. He’s everything you want in a wide receiver,” said Bademosi without blinking an eye. That’s the kind of confidence you want from a player at that position and facing this type of challenge. 

“You gotta believe in yourself,” he said “ I’m confident in my abilities. I work hard and trust my preparation.”

Being an elite athlete certainly helps. Bademosi was a scholarship football player at Stanford -- “some guy named Jim Harbaugh called” -- before ending up in the NFL. But it’s Bademosi’s willingness to go all in in the film room that impressed safety Devin McCourty. 

“…I think, honestly, the most work he did was probably with just himself jumping into the film, watching more stuff to exactly see,” said McCourty Thursday. “You know, when you’re a backup more, you’re kind of trying to see everything because you don’t know what role you might be thrust upon once you’re in the game. But, I think once he knew he was starting, it was kind of like, ‘Alright, let me focus in on this.’ I thought he did an awesome job of just being ready and competing.”

Bademosi will have to compete his ass off Sunday night, even against what has been to this point a physically compromised Jones. Based on what he did several days ago, there’s no reason to believe the Pats cornerback won’t bring everything he has, trying to prove again that he’s more than just a special teams whiz.

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