New veterans embracing adjustments with Patriots

New veterans embracing adjustments with Patriots
June 7, 2013, 10:30 am
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FOXBORO – Between them, Adrian Wilson, Leon Washington and Michael Jenkins have 28 seasons of NFL experience. And between them they’ve experienced a total of seven playoff victories (four for Wilson with Arizona, two for Washington with Seattle and one for Jenkins in Atlanta).
This offseason, all three became Patriots, joining a franchise that’s won 17 playoff games since the 33-year-old Wilson first came into the league back in 2001.
There’s no coincidence surrounding their presence. All three are good to very good players in the latter stages of their career executing a ring grab.
And in attempting that, they are seeing how the NFL’s one percent operates and getting insight into why New England’s been the league’s leviathan for more than a dozen seasons.
“They come out here and work hard,” said Washington, a former Jet who spent his first four seasons in New York before heading to Seattle for the last three. “Guys are competitive and trying to get better. I love the attitude of guys feeling they have to constantly prove themselves to the coaches, constantly put yourself in a position to prove yourself to everyone. Just the work ethic. That’s the main thing I’ve been impressed with.”
Now, there’s not a team in the league with a newly-hired veteran who will say, “I notice they don’t work that hard and guys are hoping their level of play stays the same and nobody’s trying to prove themselves…” The Patriots haven’t cornered the market on effort and improvement.
But for players like Washington, Jenkins and Wilson, the transition from teams which were playoff hopefuls to a team that’s a playoff layup is going to open a new frontier.
Washington had the best vantage point of the three playing with the Jets from 2006 through 2009, through the hiring of Eric Mangini in New York, through SpyGate in 2007, through the Matt Cassel Season of 2008.
“It wasn’t necessarily a rivalry, just two teams familiar with each other,” Washington recalled. “Fun games. Competitive. Teams trying to outdo each other. I just remember it as being a lot of fun.”
What was his impression of the Patriots from outside the walls?
“The only impression I had from afar was, they won three Super Bowls in the 2000s,” he said. “You knew they did things the right way, you knew they went out and carried themselves the right way. So just seeing that part the way they won games from, you knew if you ever had a chance to get here it was a great opportunity.”
Running backs coach Ivan Fears is intrigued by Washington who could be called on to step into the void left by departed free agent back Danny Woodhead.
“He’s gonna have an opportunity to show his stuff,” said Fears. “I’ve been impressed with him playing and coaching against him so we’re kinda excited to have him here. And we’re looking forward to see what he’ll do for us. He’s a great guy. A great guy.”
For Jenkins, a nine-year vet originally a first-round pick of the Falcons in 2004, the mantras of the Patriots are already on the tip of his tongue.
“I just want to come in, learn the playbook and do my job,” said Jenkins, who’s got a chance to be a reliable part of the offense in a Jabar Gaffney-type role. “Its team first, work hard, we’re gonna get better every day. You expect that. You expect to get better every day, learn from your mistakes and get better consistently and start being dependable.”
The player making perhaps the most radical switch is Wilson. After a dozen seasons with the Cardinals, he’s changing time zones and conferences. For a 33-year-old with four children, there are off-field dynamics to negotiate as well.
“It’s tough but I think everybody understands the situation,” he explained. “I probably have it better than some guys do, to be able to come out here and not worry about small things. I can fly back every week or I can’t.
“We’re all starting over from the beginning and we’re all in it together,” Wilson added. “I think as long as I have my family. Everybody here’s been great. Coach Belichick’s been great, the whole organization. Long as I have my family with me and they understand what’s going on that’s all I really ask for. My job is to come here and play football.”
His family, he said, will be joining him full-time in July.
“They’re letting me work right now,” he explained.
The Patriots annually sign a few veterans who’ve had success elsewhere and try them on for size. Some fit. Some don’t. Watching the transition, though, is always interesting.