The New England Patriots' linebackers are slow and old. At least that's what people were saying going into this season.
But that tune has changed as 30-something linebackers Mike Vrabel, 32, Tedy Bruschi, 34, Adalius Thomas, 30, Rosevelt Colvin, 30, and Junior Seau, 38, have helped lead the Patriots to a 9-0 record.
"I think the thing you have to look at is before the season started we were old," Vrabel said. "Now we're seasoned and experienced. Once you see guys over 30 making plays, you're not old anymore."
The Patriots' linebackers aren't acting their age. Bruschi, Thomas and Vrabel are among the team's top four tacklers. Seau, who is in his 18th season, is second in interceptions with three.
The addition of Thomas, the high-priced free agent from Baltimore, allowed Vrabel to move back to outside linebacker, where he has flourished with team highs of 8.5 sacks (fifth in the NFL), 10 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles.
"They work hard, they are experienced and football is important to them," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of his veteran linebackers. "They study hard and prepare well and they're tough and they're instinctive. They can figure out some of those plays quicker than guys with less experience. They work well together and communicate well and make adjustments. It's a good group to work with. I enjoy having them."
Being versatile at linebacker and any other position is vital in the Patriots' system. Players must be smart enough to adjust to different schemes and play a variety of roles.
"I think there's probably only one guy on this football team that plays one position well enough that he doesn't have to know another one, and that's [quarterback] Tom Brady," Vrabel said. "Other than that, everybody else better know a couple of positions or be able to do something other than what their main job is."
Vrabel's versatility extends to the offensive side of the ball, where he has been a big-time scoring threat as a tight end in goal-line situations. All 10 of his career receptions have resulted in touchdowns.
"I think that's something where [defenses] drop back to cover and then we're able to run it in," he said. "If they have everybody up there trying to stop the run because you're inside the 1-yard line, then Tom is able to find somebody and we're able to pass it in. A lot of times I've been open and sometimes I've had to make a fairly tough catch. But for the most part that ball is right in there with Tom."
Running back Marshawn Lynch was not at practice again Thursday. Coach Dick Jauron said Lynch's sprained left ankle still is very sore and reiterated that he's not optimistic about the rookie playing Sunday against the Patriots.
Tight end Robert Royal (concussion) and defensive end Aaron Schobel (illness) practiced after missing Wednesday's session. Royal was limited, but Jauron thinks he'll play Sunday.
"He was back and practiced pretty good," Jauron said. "We'll see if anything happens, if he gets a headache or any of that stuff, as we move on. Otherwise, we feel pretty good about it."
Bills quarterback J.P. Losman has apparently buried the hatchet with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, whose low blow to the knee knocked Losman out of the first meeting after only one series.
Wilfork, who was fined $12,500 for the hit, strongly denied that it was intentional and video replay appears to support that claim.
"I know he didn't mean it," Losman told the New England media this week. "It's a tough situation. I knew some people were giving him a hard time about it, but there are no hard feelings. Nobody wishes for those things to happen is kind of how I look at it and view it as it's a rough game and those kinds of things happen."