Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Vrabel labeled a throwback

Seau likens LB to Mecklenburg

By Mike Reis

December 24, 2008

FOXBOROUGH - At 39 years old, the senior presence in the Patriots' locker room, linebacker Junior Seau realizes that some of the things he says fly over the heads of his 21- and 22-year-old teammates.

One recent example came when Seau, lauding the all-around work of Mike Vrabel, compared him with Broncos great Karl Mecklenburg.

"A lot of the kids don't know who that was," Seau chuckled. "But it tickles [Vrabel]."

Mecklenburg played from 1983-94, appeared in six Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls, and was someone Seau admired when he was entering the NFL himself in 1990. Versatility and durability were Mecklenburg trademarks, and Seau sees plenty of that in the 33-year-old Vrabel.

"He's the utilityman. He knows it all," Seau said. "He knows the game of football, and with his smarts and his athleticism, having the combination of that and his experience, it's hard to find a player like that."

Vrabel's versatility has come in handy in recent weeks, as he's found himself working at outside and inside linebacker in practice after a run of injuries that included Pierre Woods (jaw), Tedy Bruschi (knee), and Gary Guyton (ankle).

Mecklenburg has no qualms with the linkage.

"I've followed Mike's career, and I look at it the same way as I did my career - he moved around a lot and has been effective in different roles," said Mecklenburg, who resides in Denver and is a motivational speaker.

"That's unusual because the positions are all different, so you have different footwork, and you have to adjust mentally to all the different assignments you get. It's hard to do, but Mike does it as well as anyone."

Vrabel also continues to lead the defensive huddle, so it's his responsibility to make sure all defenders are operating off the same script.

That has been especially important as the team integrates Seau and Rosevelt Colvin, both of whom were signed earlier this month.

Vrabel, whose third-down stop of a Tim Hightower run on the first series of Sunday's win over the Cardinals helped set a tone for the afternoon, said yesterday that the team is still doing "a lot of things with different people in there now, so guys are getting a lot more comfortable."

Although he's not close to the situation, Mecklenburg isn't surprised that Vrabel - who has played in all 15 games and has been credited by coaches with 60 tackles - has helped keep the Patriots' defense intact. Vrabel's sack totals might be down (he has 4 this season after ringing up 12 1/2 last season), but his value is not.

"As an ex-football player, you tend to look at games the way you used to look at film, and you see what guys are doing wrong more than right, and he doesn't do many things wrong," Mecklenburg said.

"Individually, he's an excellent player and he does it in the teamwork concept. It's nice to see the game played that way."

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