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Ex-Patriot Mike Vrabel was always a student of the game

Titans first-year coach Mike Vrabel was a player who loved to play and practice, according to the Patriots’ Bill Belichick.
Titans first-year coach Mike Vrabel was a player who loved to play and practice, according to the Patriots’ Bill Belichick.Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH — Mike Vrabel always wanted more. And Bill Belichick was more than willing to pile more on his plate.

Belichick remembered Vrabel as an indefatigable guy that “could go all day, loved to play, love to practice” when asked about his former linebacker, part-time tight end, and full-time football enthusiast Wednesday.

Belichick said Vrabel never really wanted to leave the field once he got out there and put him in the same category as safeties Rodney Harrison and Patrick Chung.

“All three of those players [are] in great condition — like never got tired. At least they didn’t seem like they ever got tired,’’ said the coach. “You know, go run 50 yards and cover a guy and they’re not tapping out, looking for somebody to come in for them. They run back to the huddle and they’re ready to go on the next play, whatever it is. So, that’s the way Mike was.’’

Belichick said Vrabel was willing to play any position at a moment’s notice.


“He loved to play on the scout team defense,’’ said Belichick. “He’d be their best rusher, he’d play middle linebacker, he’d play free safety, strong safety. [Troy] Polamalu, Ed Reed, [Dwight] Freeney — whoever we were playing, he would love to be those guys against our offense and then he’d take all the snaps on defense. So, all those guys are kind of like that. They bring a lot of good, positive energy to the team by just what they do and how they do it. So, I mean, you put a price on guys like that. They’re great.’’

Vrabel recalled doing pretty well while impersonating some of the top defenders in the league at the time.

“You’d have to ask Tom [Brady] but I think I did pretty well,’’ he said. “There were interceptions back then in practice . . . Tom would get mad, he would know what the card said and he would tell me where I was supposed to be and I told him I was going to be wherever I wanted to be. There was certainly a bunch of back and forth but that’s what made going to practice part of the reason you play the game.’’


Vrabel, who’ll become the first of Belichick’s former players to face him as a head coach when the Patriots and Titans square off Sunday in Nashville, was sort of a coach in training during his eight years in New England.

Though he couldn’t recall specific conversations, Belichick said there were lots of them, and coaching points were always a part of them.

“Well, at the point, Mike was playing, I was coaching, [and] we were trying to win games,’’ he said. “In passing and some of the banter back and forth — there was always plenty from Mike — we talked about coaching and playing.’’

Sparring again

Julian Edelman acknowledged it’ll be different lining up against former practice sparring partner Malcolm Butler on Sunday. Butler, who signed a five-year, $61 million deal with Tennessee, has struggled this season but Edelman expects nothing less than his best.

“[Malcolm’s] a strong players who plays the ball well in the air. He’s gotten beat a couple times, but that’s the nature of his game,’’ Edelman said. “He’s a real aggressive player that competes, plays the ball well through your hands . . . He’s got that ability to make up speed with the ball in the air while looking back. A lot of corners can’t do that. I’ve got a lot of respect for Malcolm. He’s a hard player that competes [and] his road to where he’s got shows how hard he works. He’s a stud.’’


Gronk spotted

Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel, and Shaq Mason were spotted at the Patriots’ walkthrough held Wednesday afternoon as they began on-field preparations for Sunday’s game.

Left tackle Trent Brown, who is dealing with an illness, was the only player to miss the workout, held in in weather that made it feel more like training camp than late fall.

Gronkowski (ankle/back), Michel (knee), and Mason (calf) missed the win over the Packers and were three of nine Patriots listed as limited. The others: receivers Edelman (ankle) and Cordarrelle Patterson (neck); tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring); linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee); defensive end John Simon (shoulder); and long snapper Joe Cardona (shoulder).

For the first time since arriving via trade with the Browns, receiver Josh Gordon (hamstring) was not listed on the injury report.

Home run

Pass rusher Bruce Irvin told ESPN that he turned down more lucrative offers from the Patriots and Steelers to sign with his hometown Atlanta Falcons.

“This was a dream [come] true,’’ said Irvin, who was recently released by the Raiders. “The Patriots and Steelers offered more money, but being able to play for my city and my people — you just can’t put a price on that.’’


Roster shuffle

The flurry of roster activity this week continued Wednesday when the Patriots signed offensive lineman Matt Tobin to a one-year deal, filling out the 53-man roster. Tobin, who spent the summer with the Patriots and was released on cut-down day, offers experience (the six-year veteran has 21 career starts) and versatility (he has played guard and tackle). Tobin, 28, had a short stay with the 49ers in September. There has been a lot of shuffling along the offensive line in the last week, with James Ferentz being promoted to the active roster, Brian Schwenke being placed on injured reserve because of a foot problem, and Cole Croston being released . . . The Patriots also signed running back Josh Ferguson to the practice squad. The Illinois product played in 16 games for the Colts in 2016 and was most recently on the Texans’ practice squad . . . Wednesday was the first Patriots practice for safety Obi Melifonwu, linebacker Albert McClellan, and practice squaders Ufomba Kamalu and Ferguson.

Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com.