Vrabel's ascension to potential head coach unusual, but not undeserved

Vrabel's ascension to potential head coach unusual, but not undeserved

When the Los Angeles Rams added Mike Vrabel to their list of head coaching prospects, eyebrows rose. A linebackers coach who’s never been a coordinator, never mind a head coach, in line to run a franchise?

It is unusual. But not because Vrabel’s ill-equipped to do so. He just was in a different stream than most coaches who saw their playing days end in their early 20s and -- loving football -- got into teaching it.

Vrabel apprenticed differently. He rolled up 34 sacks in his final three college seasons at Ohio State and was a two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year in the Big 10. He was a third-round pick by the Steelers, and played alongside and behind some of the best linebackers of the 90s in a zone-blitzing defense. He signed with the Patriots in 2001 and was the equivalent of an on-field defensive coordinator in an amorphous defense that was ruthless, intricate and designed with logic in mind. Dealt to Kansas City in 2009, Vrabel was the Chiefs old head until retiring after two seasons and heading back to Ohio State to coach linebackers and the defensive line in consecutive years.

If the knowledge Vrabel gathered in 14 seasons as an NFL player, a very active NFLPA rep and a truly brilliant guy who gets the business of the NFL as well as the Xs and Os isn’t suited to coach because he wasn’t a quality control guy for two seasons 12 years ago, I mean…

As Belichick said in a statement in 2011 when Vrabel went to the Buckeyes, "During his Patriots career, there was no player more respected for his football intellect and revered for his leadership by his teammates than Mike. He was elected a team captain by his peers and is a player who I think everyone knew was destined to become a coach after his NFL playing career was over.

"Mike Vrabel is as well-suited for coaching as any player I have ever coached. He has a tremendous feel for people, players, coaches and what his team needs regardless of the situation. He is outstanding in his knowledge of the game, which contributed to his excellence as a player. I have no doubt Mike will develop tough, intelligent, fundamentally sound winners."

This year, Vrabel’s Houston linebackers have arguably been the strongest part of the Texans outstanding defense with Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing, John Simon and rising star Benardrick McKinney in particular having solid seasons.

Asked on a conference call why Vrabel would be a good candidate in Los Angeles, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said, “I think people around the league recognize his knowledge, his leadership capabilities nd the type of guy that he is. He’s a guy that really cares about people, he really cares about football. Great dad, great husband. He’s got all the capabilities to be a future head coach.”

Vrabel is on the road less traveled because he had the ability as a player to take it.

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: Brady does Brady things in last-minute comeback

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: Brady does Brady things in last-minute comeback

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting takeaways from what transpired in the Patriots' last-second 36-33 victory over the Texans:

1) Tom Brady doing Tom Brady things . . . again. After the two-minute warning, Brady marched the Patriots 85 yards for the go-ahead score -- a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks in the front corner of the end zone. A two-point conversion to Cooks made the score 36-33 with just 23 seconds remaining. On the drive, Brady was surgical, finding Rob Gronkowski for 15 yards, Cooks for 18, and Danny Amendola for 27. He was also strip-sacked on the drive, but David Andrews corraled it and Brady found Cooks for the score three plays later. 

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2) Brady says he doesn't often feel sore anymore, but Monday might be a different story. The Patriots quarterback was knocked around early and often by the Texans front, including on his first pass of the game. Despite a jarring hit from linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, Brady hit Cooks for a long gain down the right sideline. Brady was sacked five times (including three strip sacks) and hit on multiple other occasions. JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and Christian Covington all got a piece of Brady at one point or another. The Texans pass-rush came in as advertised. When Brady did get some time, he found receivers down the field. Brady had six completions of 20 yards or more, including long touchdowns of 47 and 42 yards to Chris Hogan and Brandin Cooks, respectively. He threw for four touchdowns in all, giving him 27 regular-season games with at least four touchdowns, third-most all-time behind Peyton Manning (35) and Drew Brees (31).

3) Rob Gronkowski looked just fine after last week's scare in New Orleans. One of the bright spots for New England's offense was that their All-Pro tight end had yet another strong performance despite dealing with a groin injury. He caught 8 passes for 89 yards, and several of those yards came after contact thanks to broken tackles. Gronkowski also boxed out safety Corey Moore for a touchdown at the goal line.

4) Deshaun Watson put his toughness on display throughout the course of the game. The rookie quarterback hit on throws despite taking hits from the Patriots on a consistent basis. He hit tight end Ryan Griffin on three passes -- two for key first downs and one for a touchdown in the third quarter -- despite absorbing contact as he threw or immediately after. He also pulled a Houdini act late in the fourth quarter to allude multiple Patriots defenders and hit running back D'Onta Foreman for a 34-yard gain. Watson's  accuracy is still an issue at times; he had Braxton Miller open on third down and plenty of time to throw with a little over seven minutes left in the game, but he missed him badly. Still, what Watson showed in terms of his toughness and athleticism was impressive.

5) Gilmore gets his first pick as a member of the Patriots, but it was an up-and-down day for the corner who's one of the 10 most highly-paid corners in the league. Gilmore gave away 34 yards on a pass-interference penalty in the first quarter that got the Texans into Patriots territory and helped lead to a field goal. Midway through the second quarter, Gilmore picked up another costly flag as he hit DeAndre Hopkins near the sideline and was hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call that helped lead to another Texans field goal. In the third quarter, Gilmore left the game briefly as he was dehydrated. 

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