Love growing out of 'underrated' tag

Love growing out of 'underrated' tag
November 9, 2011, 10:37 pm
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FOXBORO -- Kyle Love is used to flying under the radar. There's even something about it he likes: When somebody finds you to give a pat on the back, it's because you've really earned it.

Rex Ryan did that very thing in his Wednesday conference call. Ryan was prompted about the release of n'er-do-well defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Was he surprised at the move? No, Ryan said, New England has plenty of other weapons on the d-line for the Jets to worry about, one being the "underrated" Love.

"It's pretty good to hear that from an opposing coach," Love said when told in the locker room. "What can I say? I really appreciate it. That's a big compliment coming from him. I just have to take it in stride and keep on doing what I'm doing, playing harder from week-to-week."

The grind has always been important to Love.

While at Mississippi State, he once told coach David Turner in practice to take snaps away from him. He felt he was off his game and getting playing time he didn't deserve. Reflecting last season on the college request, Love sees the situation simply.

He wanted motivation.

It was just something I did mentally to make me play with an edge."

His tenure with the Bulldogs was impressive, yet he came to the Patriots as a rookie free agent. If you think being passed over by 31 NFL teams is just another thing to inspire him, you'd be right. Still, Love isn't trying to work toward recognition. He says the "underrated" tag is "getting overplayed" and keeps his focus on being a better player, a better man, for himself.

That means practicing technique, watching more film, and falling under the guidance of veterans Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren. Already, in just his second year, Love's added an improved pass-rush to his run-stopping abilities for a more complete skillset. He'll need it. Love says the ousting of Haynesworth is two-fold in its fallout.

First the good: "I just know I have to step up even more now. Probably get a little more playing time, so just have to step up a little more.

The bad: "Guys coming in and out, that could happen to anybody. It just means I have to play harder."

He should take comfort in this season's early success. Love didn't start the first three games but got his first opportunity against the Raiders when Haynesworth was unavailable. He's kept a starting spot in the rotation since. Love has 14 tackles -- twice what he had in nine games last year -- and one sack in eight games.

Beyond Haynesworth's exit, his effort and energy have earned him added snaps. The popular NFL Films feature, "Bill Belichick: A Football Life," showed the Patriots coach criticizing his team for its lack of post-play celebration. That's not a worry with Love; he's usually one of the most dynamic guys on the field and can be counted on for a chest-bump.

"I guess you could say I've always been like that," he smiled. "Since middle school my coaches used to always tell us, 'Get excited after the play.' So it just keeps me going and to get other guys going. I get excited when I see other guys get excited."

New England will need plenty of fire this weekend. The Patriots meet the red-hot Jets Sunday in East Rutherford. Though it's not Love's first game against the AFC East rival, it should be his first start and Rex Ryan doesn't plan to be surprised. It's a new challenge in a way: live up to the growing hype.

But Love is ready. He doesn't need tricks for motivation anymore.

"I look forward to every game, so it's nothing different to me. I don't look at it as being special; every game is special to me."