Mike Vrabel says Bill Belichick has been a 'great asset' during coaching career

Mike Vrabel says Bill Belichick has been a 'great asset' during coaching career

When Gary Tanguay and his "Tanguay Takes America" team set off for Atlanta and Super Bowl LIII last winter, they made sure to stop in Tennessee to meet up with old buddy Mike Vrabel. Did he ever make their trip worthwhile.

The Titans head coach will be the center of attention at different points this week as he and his team host the Patriots for joint practices. Vrabel is fresh off his first season as the man in charge, achieving a winning record (9-7) that included a resounding victory over the Patriots in Nashville. 

Vrabel and Belichick will be running the show this week leading up to their preseason game Saturday. But had it not been for Belichick — and a thaw in the relationship between Belichick and Vrabel about two years after Belichick traded Vrabel from New England to Kansas City — Vrabel might not have been in this position. 

When Vrabel decided to get into coaching, first as an assistant at Ohio State and then with the Texans, he said Belichick was a "great asset."

"Bill was obviously a big influence on my playing career just to help me improve," Vrabel told Tanguay. "I remember the [trade] call like it was yesterday. It was toward the end of February, [Belichick] called and said, 'Hey, traded you to Scott [Pioli] in Kansas City.' 

"I said, 'It sounds like I should probably call Scott.' I hung up the phone and we didn't talk for probably two years. Retired. Called him and talked about coaching. The relationship kind of picked back up from then, and he's been a great asset to me, my family, and just to help me work through situations. Talk ball. Work through things being a head coach."

Vrabel and Belichick are vastly different personalities. Vrabel probably isn't going to be accused, as other members of the Belichick coaching tree have been, of trying to be like his old head coach any time soon.

But Vrabel has picked up on one aspect of Belichick's coaching style that he believes is vital. 

"I think he's really intelligent," Vrabel said. "I think he cares. I think he has a good way of relating to guys. I think he coaches guys differently based on their personality, which is critical. I remember one time, I think Pepper Johnson and I were arguing about something and I went over and sat on the offensive side of the bench while they were out on the field. 

"Bill had coached Pepper and he'd been with me for about six years. He's like, 'You're sitting down here like a wide receiver pouting. Get over there and lets get going.' I kind of chuckled like, 'Yeah, that's probably a pretty good analogy.'"

Belichick and Vrabel have coached against each other before during joint training camp sessions. Two summers ago, at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, Vrabel was the defensive coordinator of the Texans going against Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. Those were physical practices, but the Vrabel-led defense didn't quite get under Brady's skin the way Vrabel apparently did during his playing career. 

Those talented units of the early 2000s featured not only edge defenders like Vrabel and Willie McGinest. But Ty Law was out there. Rodney Harrison was out there. Tedy Bruschi. Richard Seymour. They were loaded, and they gave Brady fits to the point that his tantrums would require some equipment maintenance between plays.  

Vrabel probably wouldn't mind if he could somehow elicit a similar reaction from the Patriots quarterback this week. 

"[There was] a good equipment manager that they had when Tom would slam his helmet and the wires and stuff would fall out of it and spray across the field," Vrabel told Tanguay. "They were quickly able to fix the coach-to-quarterback apparatus."

Vrabel among these former Patriots turned coaches>>>>>

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.