"We could have been great ... if" Mike Vrabel
News and notes on the New England Patriots from greater Foxborough. Matthew Slater signing, Vince Wilfok on the Celtics, thoughts from Mike Vrabel and more...
-The Patriots were a constant presence at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston this spring as the Celtics made a postseason march toward the team's first NBA title in 22 years. Bill Belichick, Jonathan Kraft, Vince Wilfork, Wes Welker, Matt Cassel, Larry Izzo, Adalius Thomas and Benjamin Watson were all in the house for the team's Game 6 blowout of the Lakers to clinch the franchise's 17th NBA title.
Wilfork, a Pro Bowl nose tackle, was one of the more constant Patriots cheering on Paul Pierce and Co. this spring. Apparently the Florida native has been a fan of the Big Green since long before the new Big Three became the talk of the sporting world.
"I have been a Celtics fan my entire life," Wilfork told the Boston Globe. "I am not just one of those people that got caught up in the season. I have been going to Celtics games since I have been here and like I said the Celtics have always been my favorite basketball team."
--WR Matthew Slater became the first New England draft pick to sign when he reached a deal with the team June 13. Slater, a WR/DB/special teamer out of UCLA, was selected in the fifth round. He's the son of Hall of Fame Rams offensive lineman Jackie Slater.
Slater has been working at both safety and receiver during spring practices. He's also worked on special teams, a role that is likely his ticket to any chance he has of making the New England roster.
--The Super Bowl loss was certainly a painful experience for anyone with ties to the Patriots, but for an NFL veteran with no allegiances like first-year, free agent cornerback addition Fernando Bryant it was much different.
"I just admired the whole game, the way both teams played," Bryant said of the Giants' 17-14 upset victory. "Any time you have a Super Bowl with that few points you have to just enjoy the game."
Still, with the Patriots being such favorites heading into the game and possessing an unblemished 18-0 record, the outcome had to come as a surprise.
"Not really. When you've been playing in the league as long as I have, each game is a different game, regardless of whether it's the first game of the year or the last game of the year," Bryant said.
Did he ever think an undefeated regular season was a possibility? "I think everything has to fall in place, and obviously it did for them last year," he continued. "You have to stay healthy, you have to be lucky, you have to be good. The stars have to be aligned right."
--There are limits to what a team can accomplish in minicamp, given that they aren't in full pads, but there's still plenty of new material for the players to absorb. One area in particular that the New England defense worked on early in June is red-zone efficiency. Though it was covered for by a record-breaking offense, red-zone defense was a huge issue for the Patriots at times last season. And it's something that the unit's key playmakers have not forgotten.
"Red zone was a real area of weakness," LB Mike Vrabel said. "We could have been a great defense last year if we'd played better in the red zone. Statistically, we were good, except in that area."
They Said It: "He's got good hands." -- Patriots NT Vince Wilfork, a regular presence at Celtics playoff games this spring, when asked how Kevin Garnett would be as a wide receiver.
Hot Topic: Patriots Trivia