Foxborough, Mass. -- No other current NFL team has had as much recent success with two-way players as the New England Patriots. The Patriots have made it a practice in recent seasons to find specific roles for players to succeed in - often times on the opposite side of the ball from their normal positions - and that specialization was on display in Sunday's 40-22 win over St. Louis.
"We've been doing that," head coach Bill Belichick said Monday. "We've used Richard [Seymour]on offense, and Troy [Brown] on defense and so forth. We've been doing that. I don't really see that as a big of a deal as maybe some other people do."
No other player has embodied the two-way role more than Brown. Injuries forced the wide receiver into duties at cornerback against the Rams, a position he saw action at during the preseason and prepared for in practice leading up to Sunday's game. Brown spent much of the day as the team's nickel back, tying for fifth on the team with three tackles and also recording a pass deflection. There was also linebacker Mike Vrabel, who recorded four tackles as a starting outside linebacker, and scored his second career regular-season touchdown as a tight end on a 2-yard pass during the second quarter.
"It's kind of like when I asked Troy [Brown] during the game how he was doing, just because he's out there on both sides of the ball," Belichick said. "He just looked me matter-of-factly and said, 'Look. I'm a football player. It's football season. I'm going to play football. Just put me in wherever you want me.' You can't ask for any more than that. There are a lot of guys who have that type of attitude, but I think Troy just epitomizes it."
Several other players have pulled double duty for the Patriots. Seymour has seen spot duty at fullback. Dan Klecko, drafted as a defensive lineman before his switch to linebacker this season, was the team's fullback in short yardage situations and even started on offense against Buffalo and the New York Jets before he was put on injured reserve.
Belichick said the Patriots don't look to specifically draft players who could potentially play both ways, and that there have been unsuccessful cases of moving players to positions on the other side of the ball. He also acknowledged it can be a strain finding enough time in player's schedules to attend both offensive and defensive meetings. In some cases - which seems to be the case on the Patriots - it's a role some players covet.
"I think really, I think players enjoy that sometimes," Belichick said. "I think Vrabel has fun playing tight end. I think Klecko had fun playing on offense, so did Seymour. It gives them a chance to do unto others what they've been doing to you. It gives Troy a chance to hit some of those receivers when they're trying to hit them on every play. He's able to turn the tables on them and be the guy initiating the contact instead of trying to get away from it. I think they've taken a good attitude on those things, and in a way I think they kind of have fun with it. I think it's a different challenge, a different set of skills."
Belichick credits defensive backs coach Eric Mangini with spearheading the idea of using Brown as a defensive back. It was brought up during the team's spring mini-camp, and then put into place when Brown began practicing on defense during training camp. Now in the ninth week of the NFL season, the forward thinking is paying off.
"He's the one who really first brought it to my attention that Troy is a guy, who is going to be here and we know we can count on him, why don't we start working him over here some," Belichick said. "We don't know if we're going to need him but we might. We talked about that going into training camp, actually at the end of mini-camp. We started doing that, and it looked pretty good and it looked pretty good early.
The vintage idea of two-way players is yet another example of NFL teams looking for any competitive advantage possible. Not only does it ease emergency situations, but it also allows a coaching staff to put together a roster with specific roles and situations in mind.
"I think that's the kind of thing that this staff does, and the coaches do a good job of is looking ahead and not just seeing what the next day is going to bring, but trying to anticipate your needs through the course of the season," Belichick said.
When starting right tackle Tom Ashworth was placed on the injured reserve Saturday he became the second tackle - joining reserve Adrian Klemm - to be lost for the season. Ashworth, who has started 19 of his 23 career games, also missed the early portions of training camp with the injury.
"He's battled through a tough situation all the way, even going back to the start of training camp, and it's gotten intermittently better or worse," Belichick said. "Unfortunately, right now we're at a point where we felt like that was the move we had to make. It's disappointing for the team; it's disappointing for Tom. I'm disappointed for him personally. He's worked hard and been a very dedicated player. It's a tough setback for him."
With Ashworth out, third-year tackle Brandon Gorin stepped into the starting role Sunday for the second straight week and played well. But with Russ Hochstein and Gene Mruczkowski - both interior linemen - the only other active linemen, the Patriots have no immediate reserves at tackle.
"Fortunately Matt [Light] and [Gorin] have both stepped in and they've played very good football for us," Belichick said. "We're going to continue to need them to play at a high level moving forward. We have to have every position backed up. We have to do something. We'll have everything taken care of one way or another."
Belichick gave the players the day off Monday in a move that was likely tied to Sunday's win. "If we got beat 40-0 I doubt we'd be giving them today off. Part of it has to do with the result of the game, but in this case, as positive as yesterday's game was for us, it really has no bearing on Buffalo. I think the players deserve a little break. It was a physical game. I know a lot of them are banged up. They played hard; they played their hearts out. We need them fresh and ready to go for Buffalo." ... Vinatieri's four field goals and three extra points on Sunday gave him 76 points this season, moving him past Philadelphia's David Akers (75) as the NFL's leading scorer among kickers. ... Belichick deflected the credit when asked if Sunday was one of his better coaching performances. "I think it was a good playing job. I think the assistant coaches really did a good job this week. I think that [they] had the team well prepared to play and they did a good job."