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."
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."
He was selected in
the sixth round of the 2000 draft out of Southern Mississippi and needed three
seasons to become a starter on the stacked Ravens defense, where he lined up
all over the field. The Patriots put Thomas at inside linebacker and have kept
him there. "Playing one position is an adjustment," says Thomas.
"But I came here with an open mind. These guys were good long before I got
Belichick's system more than Seau does. Here's the proof: After 16 seasons—the
last three of them, with the Dolphins, unsatisfying—he was finished. Seau
announced his retirement (he called it a "graduation") on Aug. 14,
2006. Four days later he signed with the Pats. "Bill Belichick called
Junior directly," says Seau's longtime agent, Marvin Demoff. "He asked
what it would take to get Junior to come to New England. And it was not a
What it took,
predictably, was a chance to leave pro football with a ring. Seau, the only
first-round draft pick of the bunch (Chargers, 1990), made 12 straight Pro
Bowls from '91 through 2002, during which he averaged more than 116 tackles per
year and earned a reputation as one of the most energetic, instinctive
linebackers in the history of the game. "But the thing he kept coming back
to," says Demoff, "was the joy he had with [San Diego coach] Bobby Ross
when they went to the Super Bowl in 1994."
"I'm not about the [personal honors] anymore. I'm not about the Pro
signed him to a one-year, $1 million deal for '06 with another potential
$500,000 in incentives based on playing time. In Week 11 he broke both bones in
his right forearm making a tackle; two plates and 14 screws were surgically
inserted, and Seau and the team patiently waited until late May to agree on one
more dance. Vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli signed Seau to the
same deal, but in late August, Pioli called Demoff and told him that the team
was removing a clause in the contract that would have limited Seau's
compensation if he was injured early in the season. "He's been such a
positive influence around here," Pioli told Demoff, "that we no longer
need that protection."
Seau has taken a
minimalist approach to his sunset seasons. He moved into a condo in Boston,
while his wife and three children remained in San Diego. "I brought three
pair of jeans, four T-shirts and a suit that I keep in my locker for
games," says Seau. "I get up in the morning and I play football. It's a
simple life at this point for me." Like Bruschi and Thomas, he has accepted
Belichick's three-man inside linebacker platoon with no public complaint.