Friday, August 24, 2018

New England Patriots of the Past: Mike Vrabel

By Dale Lavine
August 23, 2018

Over the offseason, the Patriots office at Last Word on Pro Football has been fortunate enough to pen tributes to some of the greatest New England Patriots players to ever take the field. From defensive all-stars like Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, and Houston Antwine to offensive playmakers like Kevin Faulk, Ben Coates, and Sam Cunningham. As the kickoff of the 2018 regular season nears, so to does the end of this special series. This week, we’re happy to present the story of legendary former linebacker (and current Tennessee Titans head coach) Mike Vrabel.

New England Patriots of the Past: Mike Vrabel

Vrabel’s college football career featured a fair share of honors. While playing defensive end for (the) Ohio State University on an athletic scholarship, Vrabel racked up 36 total sacks and 66 tackles for loss between 1993 and 1996. His defensive abilities earned him first-team All American honors and the title of Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 1995 and 1996 – one of only two players in history to receive the latter award twice.

Offense or Defense, Vrabel Does Both

In 1997, Vrabel was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he would spend the first four years of his professional career. During his rookie year, Vrabel sacked Drew Bledsoe, then-quarterback for the Patriots, to earn the Steelers a playoff win.

After becoming a free agent at the start of the 2001 season, Vrabel was signed by Bill Belichick‘s Patriots. Though he had played defense for his entire career, Belichick would occasionally use him as a tight end. In Super Bowl XXXVIII, Tom Brady completed a one-yard touchdown pass to Vrabel, making him the first defensive player to record a touchdown since 1986 – when the Patriots squared off against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX. Vrabel’s assistance during Super Bowl XXXVIII wasn’t limited to an offensive touchdown either – he also sacked Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme twice. On one of the sacks, he also forced a fumble.

Belichick’s dual-use of Vrabel continued through the years, and he was again used to reel in a short yardage touchdown during Super Bowl XXXIX – the first Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. For any Eagles fans reading, remember this: We won first.

While Vrabel was an effective offensive weapon, his usage as inside linebacker when paired with the legendary Tedy Bruschi often proved to be near unstoppable. During his eight years with the Patriots, Vrabel recorded 48 sacks – 12.5 of which came during his penultimate season with the team – as well as 13 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. Vrabel also recorded an astounding 411 total tackles during his eight seasons with the Patriots.

Vrabel was ultimately traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009, where he played for two years before retiring.

Coaching Career and Offseason Additions

Following his retirement, Vrabel worked as a defensive line coach for Ohio State before being hired as a linebackers coach for the Houston Texans. In 2017, he was promoted to the Texans defensive coordinator when Romeo Crennel became the team’s assistant head coach.

In 2018, the Titans hired Vrabel as their new head coach following the firing of Mike Mularkey. While the Titans have yet to play a game under Vrabel’s direction, things have been looking up for them.

Throughout the 2018 NFL Draft, the Titans repeatedly jumped ahead of the New England Patriots by swapping draft picks. So often, in fact, it seemed that Vrabel was purposely derailing the Patriots potential draft choices. With one pick, the Titans drafted Rashaan Evans, a linebacker that our own Patrick Johnson and David Latham believed would (or should) be picked up by the Patriots.

The Titans also signed two of their former stars: Super Bowl XLIX hero cornerback Malcolm Butler and unstoppable running back Dion Lewis.

Last Word on Mike Vrabel

Vrabel has and always will be one of the most respected linebackers to play for the Patriots. In 2018, he was nominated for the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. The three-time Super Bowl champion has earned the respect of not just from players past and present, but fans young and old as well.

It remains to be seen if Vrabel’s coaching will take hold in Tennessee. The team has lost both preseason outings against the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Additionally, the AFC South is no easy playing field this year with the return of Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, and Andrew Luck. However, with a healthy quarterback and new offensive and defensive additions, the Titans under Vrabel’s direction are a team to keep an eye on this year.

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