When Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison retired in the offseason, and Mike Vrabel was jettisoned to Kansas City, a lot of leadership left the Patriots locker room. And in the aftermath of yesterday's loss to the Dolphins, it was clear that players were feeling the void.
"I think everybody has a role as a leader on this team," Tully Banta-Cain said. "Everybody who lines up and does their job is a leader. But I think we need guys to really step up, me included, and start making those plays that win games."
OK, so where exactly do the Patriots miss the old guys? Laurence Maroney's locker was once in close proximity to those of Vrabel, Harrison, and Bruschi, and so I asked him what they're missing.
"They were vocal," Maroney told me. "Iím not saying we donít have leadership here. But you knew in times like this, Rodney was going to say something, Bruschi would say something, Vrabel would definitely talk and say something.
"We have a lot of leaders now that are leaders by example. And donít get me wrong, a lot of young guys like myself like that leadership by example, because you donít need all the 'hoo-rah' all the time, but that vocal leadership helps out too. Weíve got a lot of leaders that lead by example, and thatís great, but we need more of those vocal leaders."
Now, the obvious follow-up is whether anyone on the team has the skins on the wall to assume such a role.
Maroney pointed out that there are grizzled Patriot vets as part of every position group, and he's right, with the possible exception of the secondary -- where Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden both have been around the NFL block but are new here. He reiterated that maturity isn't the issue here.
And Jarvis Green scoffed when I asked him about that, emphasizing that the Patriots have one of the league's oldest rosters. But it's obvious that one experienced player isn't just like the next, although as Maroney said, the onus in now on the players to not worry about anything that happened before 2009.
"The guys change, coaches change, players change," Green said. "Weíre a pretty old team, as far as average age. We have a lot of great guys in the locker room and we donít look at that. Thatís the past. This is 2009. Right now, weíre 7-5. Thatís what weíre working on right now, we have Carolina next week."
And Bruschi and Harrison have television assignments, and Vrabel has Buffalo. Point is, those guys can't help the Patriots anymore.
"Of course, we miss them," defensive lineman Mike Wright said. "Theyíre great players and they were key leaders on our team when we were here. But theyíre gone and we have other guys that can step into their positions and play. Theyíve proven it time and time again. Thatís the past. The past ainít gonna do anything for you. I donít care who was here. Now is now, and thatís what weíre dealing with."