The NFL is funny sometimes. For players like Tom Brady, media and fans follow him on a daily basis because of his popularity and stature in the league. Not everyone is in Brady's class, however. A majority of the NFL is made up of players like Monty Beisel. For these guys, they can be the center of media attention one day and sitting alone in front of their locker the next. It's just the nature of the business.
Beisel came over this offseason from the Kansas City Chiefs. He had only started nine games in his four years with the Chiefs but with Tedy Bruschi's future unclear because of a stroke, the Patriots needed depth at the middle linebacker position and they thought the intense Beisel would fit well into their system.
Beisel plays with a high motor but he's a little undersized for a middle linebacker. This wasn't a concern at first because with Beisel Ted Johnson, Chad Brown and even Mike Vrabel, the Patriots could rotate players inside to keep guys from getting worn down.
Then, just before the start of the season, Johnson announced his retirement because of health reasons. With Johnson gone and Bruschi nowhere near ready to play, Beisel became the unquestioned starter at one of the middle linebacker spots. That meant he had the unenviable task of replacing not one, but two, New England fan favorites who helped the team win three Super Bowl titles.
The fifth-year linebacker started the first six games of the season for the Patriots and registered 38 tackles. Beisel struggled a little bit picking up the new system and looked out of place at times.
"It's tough because we had some injuries early on and the communication wasn't where it should have been," Beisel said. "Now with everyone back healthy and practicing and playing together more, the communication is better and I think it shows on the field."
Bruschi came back to practice during the Patriots bye week and the writing was on the wall for Beisel, who was nursing an injured thumb at the time. Not only was Bruschi back but Bill Belichick also decided to move Vrabel inside, which meant Beisel was out of a starting job.
Things have now come full circle for Beisel. Bruschi suffered a calf injury against the Jets and his status for the playoffs is uncertain. Bruschi's injury has once again propelled Beisel into the spotlight and at the most important time of year for the Patriots. The linebacker says he's up for the challenge.
"I feel good," Beisel said. "I've been working hard all season in practice. I feel comfortable and I'm ready to go. We have quality depth on this team. When someone goes down it's important someone else steps in."
Whether Bruschi is available to play or not, there's a good chance Beisel will see more playing time in the playoffs. Bruschi suffered a similar calf injury before the Super Bowl two years ago against Carolina and it was obvious he wasn't 100 percent during that game. Beisel could be playing a much bigger role in the Patriots quest for a threepeat now that Bruschi is banged up.
"I'm just continuing to get better with the defense," Beisel said. "Tedy is a great player and we need him on the field. He means a lot to this team but if I'm asked to take on a bigger role, I'll be ready. I just keep evolving. Obviously this defense has evolved as a whole. We're playing much better than we did earlier in the season."
The Patriots defense has slowly improved over the course of the season and that should benefit Beisel when he's on the field. New England is a much more aggressive, confident unit on the defensive side of the ball heading into the playoffs than they were earlier in the year.
"I think as a defensive football team we're kind of all a little bit different," Belichick said. " I think we've all improved and gotten better at doing a number of things on the defensive side of the ball and I hope we would after the amount of practices and meetings and walkthroughs and film sessions and all of that that we've had. I think that Monty is in that group."
Beisel agrees with Belichick's assessment of his play.
"Anytime the year goes on, you're going to get better and better regardless if you've been in the system for eight years or one year," he said. "It's an ongoing process and I continue to learn and pick up things every day."
It's been an up-and-down season for Beisel in his first year with the Patriots. He didn't play well early on but he probably took too much blame for the defense's struggles. Now, with Bruschi's status for the playoffs up in the air, Beisel once again becomes an important member of the Patriots defense. Regardless of what happens over the next month, this is a season the young linebacker won't soon forget.
"It's been a learning experience for me, I can tell you that much," Beisel said. "It's been a life experience. You grow up really fast in a situation like this. It's been an interesting year for me."
McGinest wins 12th Player Award
Linebacker Willie McGinest won the Patriots 12th Player Award on Wednesday. The award is presented annually to the Patriots player who personifies team spirit and is recognized for his contributions to the organization, both on and off the field.
McGinest hosted his second annual "Shop with Jock" event earlier this month. More than 30 Patriots participated in taking a local child on a holiday shopping spree. McGinest also presented the Children's Hospital in Boston with a check for $10,000 from proceeds he raised from his annual Thanksgiving fundraiser.
Past winners of the 12th Player Award include Troy Brown, Dan Klecko, Adam Vinatieri, Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi.
NotesThe Patriots have allowed an average of 31.3 rushing yards during the month of December…The highest number of rushing yards by a running back against the Patriots this month was 29 yards by Curtis Martin…The Patriots have recorded 16 straight victories after Christmas, including the playoffs…The Patriots organization has asked fans to get to their seats early for Sunday's game. The 1985 Patriots team will be honored before the game instead of at halftime.