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Patriots notebook

Vrabel back in his comfort zone

Linebacker an outsider again

Mike Vrabel (right) is happy Bill Belichick (left) switched him back to his natural position. Mike Vrabel (right) is happy Bill Belichick (left) switched him back to his natural position. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)
By Mike Reiss and Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / September 20, 2007

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FOXBOROUGH - One of the benefits the Patriots have realized from playing Adalius Thomas at inside linebacker has been the return of Mike Vrabel to his more customary outside spot. Vrabel's 3 1/2 sacks lead the NFL.

In each of the last two seasons, Vrabel shifted to the inside - first to help fill the void left by Ted Johnson's retirement in 2005, then to replace the injured Junior Seau last season. He's happy to be back on the outside, where he's more comfortable.

"I played that spot for eight years," said Vrabel, who has been credited by the coaches with 11 tackles, tied for third on the club. "When you get asked to play another position, you try to do as well as you can do with the understanding that it is not probably your best position, but it is something that has to be done."

On the outside, the 6-foot-4-inch, 261-pound Vrabel has more opportunities to rush the passer, and he's also effective in battling tackles and tight ends to keep running backs from getting to the perimeter.

With Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin outside, and Thomas paired with either Tedy Bruschi or Seau inside, the Patriots are solid atop the linebacker depth chart. But when asked about the unique mix, Vrabel reminded reporters that it was only two months ago that some were calling the group old.

"Next week we'll be something else," he cracked before turning serious. "Guys are experienced; guys get a really good feel for how the game is going. I think AD [Thomas] is getting a feel for playing there; he's getting a feel for the game and reads the quarterback really well. Rosie [provides] rushing, and now that he's covering people and getting interceptions, we're never going to hear the end of it. I just think that the energy that Junior brings and then obviously Tedy's leadership and the ability that Tedy knows how to play both spots inside really gives us a lot of flexibility."

Wilson, Yates held out

Starting safety Eugene Wilson and Billy Yates, who started in place of right guard Stephen Neal last Sunday night, were held out of practice yesterday. Wilson has an ankle injury, while Yates was sidelined because of his shoulder.

Wilson has gone wire to wire in both games this season - and no player on the team has more solo tackles (10) - but if he is held out of Sunday's game against the Bills, it's likely first-round draft choice Brandon Meriweather would take his place. Second-year man Willie Andrews is another option.

Meanwhile, Neal (shoulder) was among five players limited in practice, along with quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder), receiver Kelley Washington (hamstring), tight end David Thomas (foot), and defensive lineman Mike Wright (knee).

Brady is regularly on the injury report but has made 110 consecutive starts, the third-longest streak among active quarterbacks behind Brett Favre (259) and Peyton Manning (158).

Not a light load

Left tackle Matt Light figures to have his hands full with Bills defensive end Aaron Schobel, who has become one of his top nemeses the last seven seasons. No one has more sacks of Brady than Schobel, who has totaled 10 1/2 in 12 games.

"He's a relentless-style pass rusher," said Light, who was selected two spots after Schobel (46th) in the 2001 draft. "He's not going to give up on any play. He's going to go 100 miles per hour and finishes a lot of those plays. He obviously is the key to their defense."

Coach Bill Belichick said the Bills move Schobel around, another challenge in facing him. Schobel's skills highlight a theme Belichick and his players spoke about yesterday: how the Bills play a significantly different defensive style than the Patriots' previous two opponents, the Jets and Chargers, as they are a quicker defense that relies more on speed.

The Everett effect

Bills coach Dick Jauron, speaking with New England reporters on a conference call, touched on how his team has been affected by the serious neck injury sustained by tight end Kevin Everett in the season opener.

"There's no way to get away from the fact that it has affected us all and will continue to," he said. "We're part of him and he's part of us, and we're kind of living through this thing together, so it's affected everybody. I couldn't say all universally the same. It hasn't been the easiest thing, but I'll tell you, Kevin has been unbelievable and his family has been, too."

Now it's secret

When asked if the NFL had received the videotapes and notes it requested from the Patriots - and if Belichick ($500,000) and the club ($250,000) had paid their fines - spokesman Greg Aiello said the league would have no further comment . . . One out-of-town reporter asked Belichick about a possible 16-0 season, which drew a strong response. "That's so ridiculous," Belichick said. "Seriously, is there anything else?" . . . Jauron on what he sees from Patriots receiver Randy Moss and if it resembles what he saw when he was coaching the Bears: "Same guy, different number - unfortunately." . . . Washington, David Thomas, and safety Rashad Baker wore black jerseys at practice, as they were the team's practice players of the week before the win over the Chargers . . . The Patriots signed lefthanded quarterback David Greene - a third-round draft choice of the Seahawks in 2005 who has not appeared in an NFL game - to their practice squad . . . The team released offensive lineman Clint Oldenburg, a fifth-round draft choice out of Colorado State, from the practice squad.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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