FB DAN VITALE
May 21, 2020
Q: In your career, as you've watched the Patriots and how they utilize the fullback, did that factor into your decision to sign here?
DV: Yeah, absolutely. There's only a handful of teams in the league that use fullbacks nowadays. Obviously, there's been a little bit of a resurgence around the league now with the success that a lot of teams have had. That definitely plays into it. Obviously, you only have a couple options when it comes to that. But, seeing all the amazing things that James Develin did over the last couple years, obviously that's enticing for a fullback. So, definitely excited to be here.
Q: How have things been for you so far?
DV: Been great. Actually, a little silver lining here, obviously with everything going on here and the state of the country, but my wife and I, we actually had our first child, a baby girl born on April 16. So, the little silver lining there is I get to spend a lot of time with both of them. We would have started up April 20, so I probably would have been gone and missed a ton. So, relatively speaking, everything's been pretty dang good. Obviously, still getting to work out and everything – you can see my pull-up bar behind me – so still getting to work out, and obviously, doing virtual meetings and everything and learning as much as we can and being as productive as we possibly can, as well. Yeah, everything's been going great.
Q: What are your early impressions of the playbook? Is meeting with the tight ends something you did at your previous stops in Green Bay and Cleveland?
DV: It's kind of a unique situation for me. I've jumped around the league a little bit, been in a lot of different rooms – tight end rooms, fullback, running back rooms – been all over the place. But, I prepare the same way no matter what room I'm in. I try to learn every single role, every single job, so whenever my number gets called, I'm able to do everything that they ask me and more. Yeah, it's been interesting, I would say, just my career path and being able to do a lot of different things. Just excited to eventually get back here with all the guys and just see where I end up fitting in, for sure.
Q: What is the process like learning a new playbook during virtual meetings? Is it a lot different than what you might be experiencing if you were actually in the building?
DV: That's a great question. Relatively speaking, as an older player, it's pretty similar to what we'd be going through. We're able to watch film and everything. We have our playbooks on our iPads and everything, so we can look through. As an older player, you kind of know what the job requires, so you know how often you've got to be watching film, going through your plays on your own and everything. I would say the only difference is we obviously can't get together on the field right now, but other than that, it's really similar and we get to hit a lot of details, which is great.
Q: You were called a "super back" at Northwestern. What does that mean to you and where did that nickname come from?
DV: Yeah, it's funny, actually. I had never heard of a super back before I got to college, either, but basically it was just like an H-back, a move tight end. Northwestern, back when I was there, didn't use a true hand-in-the-dirt tight end, so I played a little bit in the slot – a lot of times in the slot – on the wing, fullback when they used it and played a lot of receiver, basically, as well. It was just a kind of versatile player who could do a little bit of everything, and it was good for me because it kept me on the field playing 60 plays a game, sometimes more there. That was just a great role for me with my athletic ability and also with my ability to be able to block, as well. It was just a way to get me at the point of attack and do a lot of cool things from there. So, that was a big reason I went to Northwestern. They just kind of fit that mold that I was looking for.
* Q: How do you feel about replacing James Develin, someone who was with the Patriots for a while and was a Pro Bowler?*
DV: It's definitely some pretty dang big shoes to fill. James is a hell of a player. I've enjoyed watching him, really since I got into the league now. He was really a role model at the position, which as a fullback, a lot of people don't typically notice how important that role can be. I think it was pretty clear how important James was to this Patriot team over the last however many years. Definitely have some really big shoes to fill, but I'm really looking forward to that opportunity, as well as working with a lot of the other guys. So, yeah, it will be fun.
Q: It seems there is a little fullback competition between you and Jakob Johnson. How do you feel going into that competition to battle for a starting role in the offense and the other things you can do that might give you edge?
DV: We all bring something different to the table. I think it's important for all of us to find out exactly what our role is going to be and being able to do our job to the best of our ability. So, as an older guy at this point, I look forward to pushing those younger guys like Jakob, like Dalton [Keene], like Jake Burt – anybody really – Devin [Asiasi], anybody who might be in that role being able to really push each other, help each other learn. We're all kind of in the same position right now, obviously, with the virtual meetings and not being able to get on the field. So, just pushing each other. I don't think you put any pressure on each other to really take one's job or anything like that. It's just you're going to go out there and do your job and let the cards fall as they may.
Q: How do you think the presence of fans affects your play? Have you thought about the possibility of not playing in front of fans this season?
DV: I think it's too hard to speculate, just being honest with you. We have no idea what's going to happen here over the next couple of months, weeks. We don't know when we're going to come back. I think it's too hard to tell right now, if I'm just being honest. Obviously, not having fans would be different, but I don't know – do you throw in crowd noise, whatever it is? I don't know. So, I think it's just too hard to speculate at this point.
Q: Last year in Green Bay, I know Aaron Rodgers was very complimentary of you in training camp and you turned in one of your best seasons statistically. What was it like playing with Aaron and how much would you say you learned in Green Bay?
DV: Aaron's really one of my best friends that I had in Green Bay. I really felt like our relationship grew over the last year-and-a-half or so. He was just a true, genuine guy that I was just absolutely astounded to play with over the last year-and-a-half. He's just a perfectionist in every sense of the word when it comes to football. He wants to win. As a player, when you see your leaders like that, obviously you want to do the same and be the same type of guy. So, that definitely rubs off on players. Honestly, I can't say anything but good things about the guy. I absolutely love Aaron, so yeah, I loved playing with him.
Q: You've had several stops in your first four years in the NFL. How might that experience help you prepare for the various situations you'll be thrown in as you battle for a roster spot in New England?
DV: I think you kind of answered it there, too. Just the experience that I've gotten over all those spots – different terminology, everything like that. Everywhere is a little different. Some places are a little similar. But, at this point, being a fifth-year guy now, you've seen a little bit of everything, so you're able to bring that to the table and it helps you learn a little bit more quickly than some other guys might have the opportunity to do. So, in one way, obviously it's weird moving around a bunch, but on the other hand, it's given me a lot of experience and a lot of chance to learn, as well.
Q: Do you prefer to go by Dan or Danny?
DV: It's funny. I actually go by Danny. My full name is Dan Michael Vitale III. My grandfather, who passed last year, he was always Dan. My dad was Danny, and then I was always 'little Danny,' but I'm the biggest out of the three of us. Now that my grandpa has passed, I've graduated to Danny.
Q: What is your daughter's name?
DV: Her name is Bella – Bella Lynn. We kept a little Italian there at the beginning still.
Q: For those who aren't familiar with your style of play, how would you describe what you bring to the fullback position?
DV: I kind of had to learn how to play as a different type of fullback in different types of offenses over the last couple years, like we were talking about, jumping around a little bit. So, when I was in Tampa Bay, I was more of a tight end, wing type of player. In Cleveland, I was kind of a hand-in-the-ground, bruising type fullback. And then in my time in Green Bay, I did a little bit of both. I was kind of all over the field. They would split me out a little bit, catching passes out of the backfield, being a running back at times and protection back. I think the biggest thing that I've learned about my style over the last couple of years is being able to be versatile and trying to use my intelligence to the best of my ability, learn as much as I can for as many spots as I can, so whenever they need somebody to step in, I can fill that role. So, that's kind of how I would describe my style of play.
Q: You've moved around and played in a bunch of spots, but what do you feel is really your strong point as a fullback?
DV: I think my abilities with the ball in my hands, as well, that's a huge advantage I think in my style of play is being able to be a playmaker when you need it. I think it showed a little bit last year, as well, in Green Bay and looking forward to hopefully getting some more opportunities to do that here in the near future. I will say, at the end of the day too, it kind of comes with the territory as a fullback, but kind of being the tough guy and having that mentality is important and that's something I feel like I can bring, as well. I'll do any job that they ask me to do, I'll play hard every single play and I'll do it to the best of my ability.
Q: It feels like the fullback position is going through a bit of a renaissance in the NFL. I think Kyle Juszczyk is a name people look at in terms of where that position is going. Do you try to take anything from Kyle's game or see yourself being able to fill a similar role? Do you have a relationship with him or is there a fraternity of fullbacks in the NFL?
DV: Absolutely, I actually talk to Kyle a bunch. He's a good buddy of mine. We got to do the whole jersey swap and everything like that last year, playing them twice last year when I was in Green Bay. But, yeah, like you said, he's kind of the prime example of what a lot of teams are moving towards. Obviously, every offense is different, but he's been able to do a lot of great things since his career in Baltimore and now obviously all the way into San Fran. So, he's kind of the player that I like to model my game after in terms of the versatility aspect. Different teams have different schemes and need their fullbacks to fill different roles, so obviously that's what your scouting departments are looking for is guys who can fill that role that they need. But, yeah, I think he's a good guy to look up to. As far as there being a fullback fraternity, that's definitely something that was kind of kicked off a lot last year. You know, we had Keith Smith from Atlanta who sent us all fullback gear and clothing and everything, so we've all become pretty good buddies over the last year or so, I would say, and we keep in contact. It's fun watching a lot of guys have some success, too.
Q: Is there a fullback motto that's on the gear?
DV: Yeah, Keith put 'Make Fullbacks Great Again,' so we all kind of bought into that. I think even James got some hats and stuff from Keith. I still talk to obviously Kyle and everything. He wrote that on the jersey that we swapped. We're doing our best to keep the fullback position alive and thriving.