Patriots

Fullback Dan Vitale is trying to follow in the footsteps of James Develin

"I definitely have some big shoes to fill."

Danny Vitale discussed joining the Patriots after spending the last two seasons with the Packers. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Dan Vitale knows he has “big shoes” to fill after the departure of retired Patriots fullback James Develin. It’s a task he feels like he’s ready for.

After signing with the Patriots in March, the fullback admitted in a conference call on Thursday that one thing that “enticed” him to join the team was not only how they approached the fullback position, but how they utilized Develin — who recently retired due to health reasons.

“There’s only a handful of teams in the league that use fullbacks nowadays,” Vitale said. “Obviously there’s been a little bit of a resurgence around the league with the success that a lot of teams have had. That definitely plays into it, we only have a couple of options when it comes to that. Seeing all the amazing things that James Develin did over the last couple of years, that’s enticing as a fullback.”

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“It’s definitely some pretty dang big shoes to fill,” he said of replacing James Develin at that position. “James was a hell-of-a player, I’ve enjoyed watching him, really since I got in the league now and he was really a role model at the position. Fullback, a lot of people don’t typically noticed how important that role can be and I think it was pretty clear how important James really was to this Patriots team over the last how ever many years. I definitely have some big shoes to fill but I’m really looking forward to the opportunity as well, working with a lot of the other guys.”

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Seeing as he’ll be competing for a starting spot at the fullback position, Vitale was optimistic and said he deems that as an opportunity for all the fullbacks, including Jakob Johnson, to push each other.

“We all bring something different to the table and I think it’s important for all of us to find out exactly what our roles are going to be and being able to do our job to the best of our ability,” says Vitale. “As an older guy, I look forward to pushing those younger guys, like Jakob, Dalton [Keene], Jake Burt, really anyone in that role…We’re all kind of in the same position right now, obviously with the virtual meetings and not being able to get onto the field.

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“I don’t think you put any pressure on each other to really take one’s job or anything like that, it’s just that you’re going to go out there and do your job and let the cards fall as they may.”

When asked what he, specifically, brings to the fullback position, Vitale harped on his experience in the NFL and his ability to play his position in different offenses. He spent the last two seasons with the Green Bay Packers, where he caught seven passes for 97 yards last season and developed a close relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Prior to that, he spent two seasons on the Cleveland Browns.

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“I kind of had to learn how to play as a different type of fullback in different types of offenses over the last couple of years,” he said. “Being able to be versatile, and trying to use my intelligence to the best of my ability, learn as much as I can [and] as many spots so whenever they need somebody to step in I can fill that role.”

As far as learning the Patriots’ playbook, he also said that bouncing between teams has exposed him to the different terminology and systems that teams go by.

“The experience that I’ve gotten along all those stops, different terminology everything like that, everywhere is [either] different or 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. It helps you learn a little bit more quickly than some of the other guys might have the opportunity to do.

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“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 chances to learn as well.

“I prepare the same way no matter what room I’m in,” he added. “I try to learn every single role [and] job so whenever my number gets called, I’m able to do everything that they ask me and more. So, it’s been interesting — my career path, being able to do a lot of different things and I’m just excited to eventually get back here with all the guys and see where I end up fitting in.”

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While the adjustment to a new team can be difficult, especially during a pandemic where meetings are virtual and training is limited due to the COVID-19 virus, Vitale said that he has been doing “great” so far. He feels like learning the playbook and going over film, even if it’s virtually, has not been that different of a process than it would be otherwise.

“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, so we can look through. As an older player, you know what the job requires and you know how often you got to be watching film, going through your plays on your own.

“I would say the only difference is, we obviously can’t get together on the field right now, but other than that it’s been really similar.”

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