NASHVILLE — Mike Vrabel gave the Patriots eight years of stellar service. And in a way, the Titans coach is still giving back to his old franchise.
When the Patriots traded Vrabel and quarterback Matt Cassel to the Chiefs in 2009, they received a second-round pick in return. New England used that selection, the 34th overall, to grab Patrick Chung.
Ten years later, Chung is still paying dividends as one of the respected leaders in the New England locker room. Chung has unquestioned toughness and uncanny versatility, the way Vrabel was thought of during his Patriot tenure, when he won three Super Bowls.
“I’ll take that [comparison], but I had nothing to do with that. I was just sitting on my couch waiting for the call,’’ Chung said of his draft night. It’s a time he recalls fondly.
“It was a private call and I almost didn’t answer it because I don’t answer private calls,’’ Chung added with a smile Wednesday morning after wrapping up practice. “But then I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to answer it,’ so I did and it turned out to be Mr. [Robert] Kraft and they said they were going to take me. Then I talked to Bill [Belichick], I talked to everyone else.’’
Chung recalled how his father saw the news first on Twitter — which was still in its infancy — and he could hardly contain himself. Chung decided to have a little fun with it.
“He kept saying, ‘I see it on my Twitter, I see it on my Twitter, it’s the Patriots,’ and I was like, ‘No, Daddy, it’s not the Patriots,’ ’’ Chung said. “Then the call went in and they didn’t get through half my name [on TV] and my family started screaming. It was good. It was a good night.’’
Two stints in New England and three Super Bowl titles later, Chung acknowledges he still thinks about that night every now and then and how far he’s come.
“It’s been a wild dream, man,’’ he said. “I just kept my head down, like my dad said, and kept pushing. There’s been up and downs, sometimes it works out that way. But I’m working hard, staying out of trouble, and doing what I’ve got to do.’’
Chung has spent the summer in a red noncontact jersey as he recovers from arm and shoulder injuries. It’s a weird sight to see one of the pound-for-pound hardest-hitting players in the league not colliding with bodies.
“It’s hard to practice with the red jersey because of my mentality,’’ he said. “But it’s going good, knocking the rust off, and getting ready.’’
Talking the talk
Dion Lewis took some shots at the Patriots after the Titans beat his former team last season in Nashville. He called the Patriots “cheap” and said the game was “personal.”
After Monday’s practice, Lewis acknowledged the Patriots got the last laugh — “They won the Super Bowl!” he said — and added that none of his ex-teammates took issue with his comments.
“Nah, man,’’ said Lewis. “They all know it was fun and games, and guys were talking trash today. That is what you do. When you go against somebody, you talk trash and compete. And you try to get better.’’
The 5-foot-8-inch, 195-pound running back said he’ll continue to carry himself the same way.
“The chip is still there. The chip has to be there,’’ he said. “That is just who I am. That is how I play. I have to come out here fiery, with a chip, talking trash. That is who I am. I like to have fun and work hard. That is who I am, and I’m going to continue to be that way until they don’t allow me to come out and play football anymore.’’
Tom Brady dropped back and sent a frozen rope (not easy in the Tennessee heat!) that Braxton Berrios hauled in over the middle. The pass was nice and so was the catch, but the biggest development on the play was the way left tackle Isaiah Wynn slid laterally and picked up — and demolished — the middle linebacker. It was the huge step for Wynn, who tore an Achilles’ last year after being the club’s top pick. He’s been penciled in as the Week 1 starter and said Wednesday he’s “working out here every day to get prepared for that.’’ . . . The Patriots rookies sang “Happy Birthday” to Vrabel, who turned 44 Wednesday . . . Despite the stifling heat, Stephon Gilmore continues to wear long sleeves during practice. He has a straightforward explanation. “I love long sleeves,’’ the cornerback said. “I don’t know why. I think I got my first pick in long sleeves and I never took them off again.’’