Mike Vrabel entered the league 13 years ago as a defensive end with Pittsburgh. He would play sparingly over four seasons in the Iron City, never starting a game.
Vrabel’s tackle total over his first four seasons in the NFL stood at 43; not exactly a precursor for a player who would start 124 games over the next decade.
Then again, Mike Vrabel isn’t the ordinary.
“Mike Vrabel is some good stuff,” head coach Todd Haley said on Tuesday.
Vrabel found a home with New England in year five of his career, started 12 games, set career highs in every statistical category, beat his old team in the AFC Championship Game and won a Super Bowl ring. Not bad.
A similar storyline would be written in two of the next three years as well. Some five seasons after leaving Pittsburgh, Vrabel would turn in a career-best 114 tackles with the Pats. That seasonal mark alone was nearly three times more tackles than his four years in Pittsburgh combined.
Through the Championship rings, Super Bowl sacks, TD receptions and record-setting seasons, Vrabel didn’t forget where he started.
“The only way he made the (Steelers) was special teams,” Haley said. “That’s how he got his opportunity because for whatever reason people said he didn’t have this skill to be what we want and there were a lot of people that thought that, I’m sure just because of evidence.
“He then became a talented, good player that made himself part of a team transitioning from a struggling team to a championship team and he did that by not only having great production as a rusher, as a linebacker, but then playing special teams for a bunch of those early years even after he was a known contributor beyond special teams,” Haley continued.
Mike Vrabel knows where the Chiefs are currently at as a program and what the organization is trying to do. He’s already lived it.
“In my mind, I can’t overuse him,” Haley said.
The Chiefs are a younger team, still in development, bridged with established veterans like Vrabel and
Part of the reason that players like Vrabel and Jones were brought into town was for their leadership qualities, but they they’re not paid to be sounding boards either. First and foremost, these guys were brought in to play.
“I think that to help this team out I can play well, and then I can try to share experiences with them,” Vrabel said. “I can say, ‘hey, this happened to me 10 years ago, or 13 years ago, or whatever. But for the most part these guys are getting it and trying to do the right thing.”
Mentorship in the NFL is like passing the torch, so to speak. When Vrabel was plugging away on special teams as a 24-year old, he had similar players that helped shape him into the influential player that he is today.
“Guys that I looked (up) to were Greg Lloyd, Dermontti Dawson, Carnell Lake, Levon Kirkland in Pittsburgh, specifically,” Vrabel recalled. “Willie Mcginest, Troy Brown and Drew Bledsoe to a point. Drew was there early on (in New England) and through everything that happened in his situation, he was still a professional and still worked and competed and put the team first.”
Vrabel’s wealth of NFL knowledge can relate to players at various stages in their careers. Outside of an obvious mentorship role to the Chiefs young outside linebackers, Vrabel can connect with players ranging from those thrust into media spotlight down to the 53-man hopefuls.
Tuesday provided a perfect example - Vrabel poked fun at
His answer was surprisingly simple.
“Everything will be determined through the games, really,” Vrabel said. “You can go out here and practice great, but you have to go out to the games and prove you’re value to the team, whether that’s on offense, defense or special teams. Ultimately you have to go out and do it during the games and in live competition.”
Vrabel’s value to the team expands much further than just the live competition.