Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Vrabel is staying tuned in

By Mike Reiss

October 1, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - Three games into the season, outside linebacker Mike Vrabel has emerged as the Patriots' primary defensive player to have the coach-to-player communication device in his helmet.

This marks the first year NFL defenders have been allowed to have the device, and while calling it an "ongoing battle," Vrabel feels it's been a positive change.

"It's pretty good. I think it helps," he said. "I don't think it hurts."

When teams voted to approve the device for defenders in the offseason, one of the issues that Patriots coach Bill Belichick pointed out was that some teams don't have a player who is on the field for every play, a result of substitution packages. That makes it challenging to decide who gets the device.

Vrabel is as close to an ironman as the Patriots have, seldom coming off the field. He plays on early downs in the base defense, and usually stays on the field on third down. It also helps that he's been in the team's defense for eight seasons and is one of the club's smartest players.

Vrabel reports that there have not been major problems with the device.

"Sometimes there are some blips then and now, but for the most part I think it's been pretty good," he said. "It's [defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] holding the button, getting used to holding the button, which he's doing and everything. It's just not something that we're used to doing, whereas the offense has been doing it for quite a few years."

Defensive signals remain a part of the weekly preparation because there is always the possibility that the communication device won't work.

"When yours doesn't work or there is an issue, you really can't wait," Vrabel said. "We're pretty much dependent on what the offense is doing, and we kind of have to respond quickly to what they're doing."

Perhaps the most pressing issue for Vrabel is keeping his two helmets straight. When he comes to the sideline after a change of downs, he makes sure he's close to his other helmet - which doesn't have the communication device - just in case he's needed as a third tight end on offense.

"Offensively, I can't have the device on because the quarterback has it," he said, referencing the rule that only allows one player to have the device. "What I do is hold the other helmet in case I have to go out there. If I don't, or if something else changes fast, sometimes I forget."

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