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Welcome to the 'Backerhood (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:27AM; Updated: Tuesday November 6, 2007 10:27AM
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Rosevelt Colvin: The closest thing to a hammer in the group.
Rosevelt Colvin: The closest thing to a hammer in the group. "My game has never been speed and strength," he says. "It's about using my head."
Winslow Townson/AP

Says Vrabel, "It started going in a direction where it wasn't funny anymore. We were always trying to see who could have the upper hand, and it was reaching a point where two knuckleheads were just going to end up fighting each other. So we stopped."

On the field Vrabel is Belichick's good soldier. He flourished as a 3-4 outside linebacker for four full seasons, but he was moved inside to replace Bruschi during the 2005 season and again for the last five games of last year, after Seau broke his right forearm. Vrabel's a weapon on goal line offense too: Against Washington in Week 8 he caught his 10th career touchdown pass, to go with 13 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles -- one of the more phenomenal stat lines for a defender in recent memory. "Student of the game," says Thomas.

Garrett, whose Cowboys were manhandled by New England in Dallas on Oct. 14, says, "Vrabel knows that scheme so well. First, he's a Sam [strongside] linebacker, then he's a Will [weakside] linebacker. Hand on the ground, then no hand on the ground. Incredible versatility." He's unpredictable, and, just as important, unselfish and unassuming. As Vrabel says, "I don't need a great story told about me to feel like I've had a good career."

If Vrabel is the Swiss Army knife of this group, Colvin is the closest thing to a hammer. On nearly every snap he is attacking off the edge with the kind of energy that spurred the Pats to sign him to a seven-year, $30 million free-agent contract in 2003, after he had totaled 21 sacks in the previous two years for the Bears. On Sept. 14 of his first season in New England, he stumbled while trying to recover a fumble and dislocated his left hip.

His recovery has been laborious. In the weeks after the injury his hip would slip out of joint as he sat on the edge of his bed to get dressed. He started only one game in 2004 and 11 in '05, finishing with seven sacks. Last year he started 15 games and had 8 1/2 sacks. He hasn't missed a game this season, ringing up 22 tackles and three sacks. Against Indy on Sunday his late fumble recovery killed the Colts' last drive. "I'm still trying to get back to the player that was advertised when they signed me," Colvin, 30. "Fortunately my game has never been speed and strength. It's been about using my head."

Speed and strength. That would be Thomas, the free-agent prize of the 2007 off-season, a 6' 2" specimen whose skill set -- a defensive end's power, a linebacker's hands, a safety's speed -- defies belief. "For a guy that big to run that fast," says Phifer, "it's just not fair."

Thomas also holds his own in the survivor department. At age 14 he was a passenger in a heavy-metal 1966 Ford Galaxie driven by his 18-year-old brother, Evoris, that was involved in a head-on collision near their home in Equality, Ala. Adalius's head smashed into the windshield, and it took more than 400 stitches to close the wounds. Years later he was still picking glass out of his scalp in the shower. A thick scar marks his forehead. "Good thing the car was a big old antique," says Thomas, "or I'd probably be dead."

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