The Haphazard Blog

Big Changes Coming for the Patriots?

by on January 17, 2010 5:08 PM, under Football, Patriots, Sports

It has been a week of looking back on the Patriots and from what I gather, some big changes are likely coming. The big theme was a lack of leadership.

There was a culture in the locker roomthat was basically eliminated in one off-season. Rodney Harrison’s contract ended at the end of the season and he was going to take his time to decide on his future. The Patriots traded Mike Vrabel at the start of free agency for basically nothing. I don’t know if they traded him over a $1M roster bonus or because he wasn’t producing. Harrison decided to retire in June. Tedy Bruschi got through half of training camp and decided to retire. Then the Patriots traded Richard Seymour right before the season started. From what I can gather now, these guys were the “assholes” in the locker room. They were the vocal ones who would make sarcastic remarks like “leaving already?” to the rookie who was leaving before they were. They weren’t afraid to call out other team mates for anything they felt was lacking. Poor play, poor focus, poor discipline, etc.

When Harrison and Bruschi retired, they pointed to Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo as leaders. The problem was, them, along with Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are all nice guys. They lead by example but they won’t call a team mate out. There were always stories about how during practice, Harrison would turn it into a real competition with Brady. His goal was to incense Brady every practice. He was vocal and clear about it. In turn, Brady wanted to beat Harrison. They made each other better every day. They pushed each other. And this was widespread through the whole team.

There was a good story Willie McGinest told to the Globe that kind of sums up what was lost:

“When we were there, we had a foundation and a nucleus of guys that were competitive,” said McGinest. “And not competitive against the other team. Competitive against each other. I remember yelling over at (Richard) Seymour during the game, Ty (Warren) and me saying, ‘They ain’t running over here!’ And he and Vrabel yelling back, ‘They ain’t running here.’ And then (Vince) Wilfork saying, ‘They sure as heck ain’t running here.'”

They pushed each other to the point that no one wanted to be the reason they lost. They all did their jobs at a high level. It makes me realize how lucky we were as Patriots fans. Bill Belichick was able to get together all these guys who made each other better. Yes, his schemes were good, but these were a group of extraordinary players. It also looks like they were all on the defensive side of the ball. In one off-season, Belichick got rid of the last of them. I think this clarifies why Junior Seau was brought back so early. Unfortunately, pre-game speeches only carry a team so far. There was no one on the sidelines (or in practice) challenging their team mates to play better. Now you have guys laughing and joking after the beating they took to end the season. A year ago, no one would’ve been smiling in that locker room.

Belichick got rid of all the vocal guys. There was no one left to police the locker room. There were no dissenting voices to challenge Belichick. I don’t mean like Adalius Thomas, but players who performed on the field week in and week out. Leaders who would stand up to the coach when needed. The only voice left was Belichick’s. It goes back further than these guys. He got rid of Lawyer Milloy (but was lucky to have Rodney Harrison to fill his leadership shoes). After he joined the Bills, his first week there in the film room players were laughing at another player for blowing a play. Milloy tells everyone that it isn’t funny. The new guy was already showing them how to do things the right way.

Brady talked about it to an extent on the radio show and after the loss. That he needed to be a better leader. That you just can’t replace all those guys they lost. This is why I think a lot of change is coming. I’m hoping Belichick realizes what was missing in the locker room and he goes out and gets free agents who bring that edge back. We were all waiting for the real Patriots to show up this year. Most of us didn’t realize the people who really made the “Patriot Way” go, are gone. Whether they can get it back remains to be seen. There is no one left there to teach it to the next guy. It seems that no one took that torch from any of them. They were content to have Vrabel, Harrison, Bruschi and Seymour do it all.

This is one of many problems the Patriots have going into the next year. They have no offensive or defensive coordinator. The Baltimore Ravens (and even some Patriots players) said it was like they were in the Patriot’s huddle throughout that game. Is there any excuse for another team being able to predict/defend the offense that well? Coaches, schemes, players, leadership, there’s a lot of work to do in Foxborough.

For any Patriots fans who would like more information about the leadership void and why things didn’t go so well this season, I recommend listening to this Patriots Football Weekly podcast.

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