WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — Mike Vrabel isn’t making any drastic changes in his first season as the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.
After what the unit did last year he knows that isn’t necessary. The defense was the strength of the team in 2016 and finished the season allowing the fewest yards per game in the league despite defensive end J.J. Watt missing all but three games because of back surgery.
“I’m not really trying to put my stamp on our defense,” Vrabel said. “I’m just trying to coordinate a group of professional athletes that were successful last year as a group … our guys play hard and I appreciate that. So, I don’t know if that’s my stamp or that’s their stamp, but we try to have a culture that is built around competitiveness and winning.”
Vrabel spent three seasons as Houston’s linebackers coach before he was promoted to coordinator when Romeo Crennel became the assistant head coach. As the Texans prepare for their second preseason game Saturday night against the New England Patriots, coach Bill O’Brien has already been impressed with the work he’s done in his new role.
“They’re doing a good job over there mixing it up. We’re mixing it up,” O’Brien said. “I think he’s doing a good job. He’s very organized, detailed, works very hard. He’s got a great way with the players, so I think so far, so good.”
Before becoming a coach, Vrabel spent 14 seasons as a linebacker for Pittsburgh, New England and Kansas City, where he piled up 511 tackles and 57 sacks. His extensive playing experience is a big reason why the players have taken to him so well as a coach.
“He brings (enthusiasm) every day and we just kind of feed off of his energy,” cornerback Kareem Jackson said. “He’s been in the situations that we’ve been in and some big-time ball games. So, we’re definitely going to follow him. He’s going to be our leader and he’s a great leader for us.”
Vrabel spent the bulk of his career with New England, spending 2001-08 there and winning three Super Bowl titles. This week when the Patriots and Texans had joint practices, it gave Vrabel a chance to catch up with some old friends and gave those friends an opportunity to laud him for work he’s done in his coaching career.
New England coach Bill Belichick wasn’t surprised that Vrabel transitioned into coaching when his playing career was done.
“He could call signals, he had great leadership, was a multi-year captain, so his leadership, his presence, his communication, awareness, situational awareness in addition to just being a good football player, those things were traits that carried over into coaching,” Belichick said. “And Mike’s one of the physically and mentally toughest players I’ve ever coached, so I’m sure that will serve him well in this profession, too.”
Vrabel credited Belichick for helping him develop as a player when he joined the Patriots after spending four years with the Steelers where he didn’t start a single game.
“If you can pay attention and focus in the meetings, you can learn a lot,” Vrabel said.
Tom Brady is thrilled to see his former teammate and close friend moving up the coaching ranks and can already see him doing even more.
“It won’t be long before he’s a head coach,” Brady said. “He’s just got a great presence. He was a great player for us. He’s been one of my great friends for a long time … I love the guy and what he’s accomplished.”
The Texans enjoy Vrabel’s coaching style and believe his energy rubs off on them and makes them better every day. He brushes off such compliments, and said he’s just focused on trying to get the most out of a talented defense led by Watt which also includes 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and veterans Brian Cushing and Johnathan Joseph.
“They know I’m passionate, they know that I do this for one reason, and that’s to make the players better,” Vrabel said. “I can’t (play) anymore. I love the game. I love every coach that I’ve played for. I felt like they’ve made me better, from Bill Belichick all the way down to a college coach. I’ve played for great guys and they tried to make me better and I try to do the same thing for them.”
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