Warren and Patriots: A perfect fit

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Warren and Patriots: A perfect fit

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Ask fans who the I-beams of the Patriots are right now and the answers will be predictable: Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker. Maybe even rookie corner Devin McCourty.

But ask the team about Gerard Warren.

The praise he gets from the guys who know him best speaks volumes. They'll tell you that the defensive lineman is invaluable to the 12-2 Patriots.

"He's brought a lot of experience,'' Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "He's a smart guy and a versatile player. He can play inside and outside. He can play it on the nose, both ends. He's a smart guy. He sees things. Very professional. Ready to work every day. Tough. He's banged up like a lot of guys are but he stays out there and fights through it. He's been a very dependable player for us.''

It has taken him a while to get here.

Gerard Warren was the third overall pick in 2001. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder was convinced the Patriots would draft him but he went earlier, selected by the Browns three picks before Richard Seymour.

For most of his first nine seasons in the NFL he was trapped in dysfunctional and unsuccessful franchises, bouncing from Cleveland to Denver to Oakland.

Finally, last March, a chance to sign with a new team surfaced. It was Seymour who recommended the Patriots. Warren was signed in April as a role player.

"I think when you sign a player like that, I don't know if you know what their role's going to be,'' Belichick said. "When you haven't had him before, and even if you have, you wait to see how their performance relates to everybody else that you have, put it all together and see how it works out. Kind of go back to that Roman Phifer situation."

The coach picked an apt comparison. Phifer was signed by the Patriots in 2001 after 11 seasons in the league. He'd played for Belichick in New York in 1999.

New England handed Phifer a veteran minimum contract and an unspecified role. By the end of the 2001 regular season, the outside linebacker had 93 tackles. By the end of the playoffs, he had a Super Bowl ring. He won two more rings in '03 and '04.

"I told Phifer that I thought he would have a limited role,'' Belichick said. "We had a role for him, I wasn't sure what it was. That role ended up being that he played 98 percent of the plays.

"You just don't know how it's all going to work out with your team from year to year. Some of that's a function of that player. Some of it's a function of what's going on around them. Some of it's a function of who you're playing."

The injury to Ty Warren forced Gerard Warren into more minutes. Despite a knee injury, he has played in all 14 games (9 starts) in New England's stunning 2010 season. He has racked up 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

What he wants is the hardware that Roman Phifer got his hands on.

"Wish I woulda had a lot more Super Bowl rings on my fingers,'' Warren said. "That's what I judge it on winning and losing. I been in the league for 10 years, so I'm blessed for that."

He has believed for a while now that playing for the Patriots is the solution. In May, Warren said he was tremendously impressed with New England's attitude.

"It's all business,'' he said. "Come in. Play winning football. Have fun. Family environment. When you walk in through the doors, its all business. Very appealing."

Six months later Warren cites his time in New England as "one of the most beautiful journeys" in his life. The defensive stats are nice, but the reason this is a great year is because he's playing for an organization "thats got a mission and a plan and a purpose." Because he's finally got a chance to make a difference with a Super Bowl contender.

"That's one guy that came here with all the intentions of helping this ball club win,'' Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "Great player. Great person. What he's done for us has been great. From his leadership standpoint, playing skills, you name it. However he can help he's helped."

Wilfork's especially high on his new teammate. Though Warren is listed as a defensive lineman, his ability to play over the center or at tackle has allowed the Patriots to be more exotic with how they use Wilfork.

So how come the folks buying Patriots jerseys aren't scrambling for Number 92? Without a Pro Bowl nod or Super Bowl ring, some might call him a bust. But Warren's been more a victim of circumstance.

Even now with the Patriots, the 3-4 defense isn't built to make stars of defensive lineman. Doesn't matter much if the fans don't notice him though. The players do.

"Sometimes I find myself asking him questions," Wilfork smiled. "He'll kind of look at me crazy like, 'Man, I just got here.' It's just a respect factor. He's been around the game for a long time. That's a guy that I've seen a lot of film on, if he was out in Denver, Cleveland or Oakland. I've watched a lot of film on him because there's something about his game I like."

Just another underrated acquisition for Bill Belichick.

"I never try to tell a player exactly what his situation's going to be because it's always subject to change," Belichick said. "This is where we're going to start. Where it ends up? Sometimes it's where you start and sometimes it isn't.''

Gerard Warren is seeing a hell of a lot more of the gridiron than anyone expected last spring. For both the player and the Patriots, this is a really good thing.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Brady: Preseason reps help you adapt to the speed of the game

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Brady: Preseason reps help you adapt to the speed of the game

FOXBORO -- It's clear that Tom Brady wants to play at some point this preseason. What's a little less clear is what he thinks he stands to gain from preseason game reps in August when he won't be playing meaningful snaps until October. 

After explaining why he missed Thursday's preseason game with the Bears, which he was scheduled to start, Brady was asked on Tuesday if he feels as though he needs game reps before matching up with the Browns in Week 5.

"I don’t think any of them hurt," he said. "I think just do the best you can do. We’re preparing a lot of guys to get ready to play. I fit into that, but so do a lot of other guys. I’m just taking the advice of coach [Bill Belichick], and whatever he wants to do. I’m going to do everything I can to be ready to go when I am called upon. That’s what my responsibility is so that’s what I’m preparing to do."

If the only benefit of having Brady play against the Panthers in the third preseason game amounts to, "Well, couldn't hurt..." then it would come as some surprise if Belichick opted to play Brady anyway. Because it could hurt. It could hurt quite a bit should something flukey happen and Brady ends up worse off than he was after his recent run-in with a pair of scissors. 

Former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi, told WEEI recently that Brady needs to work in a preseason game before serving his four-game suspension. Why? 

"The speed of the game changes," Lombardi said. "You have practices against the Bears, but it’s kind of simulated and controlled. I think Tom wants to get the flow of the game . . . Because it’s the third preseason game, Jimmy [Garoppolo] is probably going to play as much into the third quarter as possible, and then you don’t want to put Tom out there with a lot of other guys that perhaps won’t make the team. The second game was kind of a game where he should have played a little bit to get his feet wet. He’s not going to play the fourth game against the New York Giants. That’s going to be Jacoby Brissett’s game. 

"I think [the Bears game] was the time, and that’s why [Brady] was going to play. Obviously something happened with the injury and that’s why he didn’t play . . . I know Tom needs to play in the preseason. He’s not just going to go waltz onto the field and feel the game is going to come right to him."

It feels as though Brady, after 16 years in the NFL, would be able to adapt to the speed of the game relatively quickly with or without preseason reps. But Brady expressed an opinion similar to that of Lombardi when asked about the difference between preseason snaps and practice snaps. He's seen plenty of the latter against the Bears, Saints and his own teammates.

"Well, I think you’re getting hit so just the space awareness, guys around you and ball security and things like that," Brady said. "For whatever, the last 30 practices, quarterbacks aren’t touched. Just standing there in the pocket, holding the ball knowing that they’re coming to get the ball and knock it out of your hands, hitting the ground, those types of things and so forth are important.

"You just have to feel things out, and the game is really the only place to get it because it’s regular speed. You don’t know what’s coming. We prepare, but we don’t obviously get to walk through the looks that we’re going to get. When you get out there you just have to make good decisions and go play quarterback the way that I’ve always tried to do."

Maybe it's to adapt to the pace of the game. Maybe it's to be faced with the real threat of contact. Maybe it's just because he can't stand not to be on the field when the Patriots are playing. Either way, Brady obviously hopes that he'll play on Friday night in Carolina. 

The question now is are the benefits great enough that Belichick will allow him to?