Veteran TE on mission
Crumpler prepared to handle all roles
Alge Crumpler kept repeating the same word with each passing minute. When he first joined the Patriots for organized team activities in late May, the veteran tight end searched for the right word to express the positive mood he encountered.
With the team now in training camp, Crumpler has settled on what he believes defines the Patriots: professionalism.
After yesterday morning’s walkthrough, Crumpler said he is willing to take on any role coach Bill Belichick wants. And with the Patriots’ complex offense, that could mean a lot of responsibilities. But Crumpler said that is his way of showing the organization his commitment to being professional. It’s a mentality that is seen more in an unproven rookie than an accomplished player entering his 10th season.
“I don’t think there’s anything in this offense that I can’t do,’’ Crumpler said. “I just hope to be productive in any way. It’s just a matter of what the coaches want me to do, and if I’m able to do it effectively.’’
Crumpler signed a two-year, $4.8 million contract in March to become the Patriots’ primary tight end. However, in the past the position has not been a primary resource to moving the ball downfield. Instead, the Patri ots have relied more on their tight ends to block.
That was similar to Crumpler’s last two seasons with the Titans. Although he helped Chris Johnson rush for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009, Crumpler’s numbers dropped. He had just 27 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown — all close to career lows for a player who has been selected to four Pro Bowls.
Now, both the Patriots and Crumpler appear headed in a different direction.
One way Crumpler can help the Patriots is by using his 6-foot-2-inch, 275-pound frame in the red zone. Last season, the Patriots ranked 13th in red-zone efficiency. Belichick hopes replacing the entire position — the Patriots are the only team in the league to not have a single tight end return from last season — will result in improvement.
“I think Alge has been really good for our football team,’’ Belichick said. “He prepares with great diligence and puts a lot of time in it. He never wants to walk on the field unprepared.’’
But Crumpler’s job description is multifaceted. The Patriots not only want him to make a difference on offense, they also want him to help rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez — players who could soon take playing time away from Crumpler — get adjusted to the NFL. Carlos Butler and Rob Myers, two other tight ends with little experience, are also on the roster, and could benefit from some mentoring from Crumpler.
“Everybody in this league is a great athlete, but it takes a lot of work off the field to be a good pro,’’ Crumpler said. “I just want to make sure I know what’s going on so that when they ask a question, I can be prompt in my responses.’’
Crumpler has tried to lead the group by example, which has caught Belichick’s attention. Belichick added that Crumpler has excellent hands and does a nice job catching the ball even when it’s off target.
“I think he’s performed well,’’ Belichick said. “You can see why he’s been so successful. He’s tough, and every play is an important play to him.’’
Crumpler said he always felt he was a good player, even if his numbers were down. Being surrounded now by teammates such as Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Kevin Faulk, Crumpler thinks his talents can only make the Patriots’ offense more explosive.
“This is the best offense I’ve ever played in, historically speaking,’’ he said. “It’s up to us to mesh together now.’’
Faulk, entering his 12th season with the Patriots, said Crumpler has had no trouble being accepted and getting acclimated to the offense. Faulk believes Crumpler’s eagerness to learn will make him a stronger weapon.
“He’s one of those guys that can be very versatile for you, and I think that’s why we got him,’’ Faulk said. “He can help us a whole lot.’’
Crumpler knows great athletes separate themselves from others with good preparation. That’s why he thinks the Patriots have been contenders for such a long time.
“We’re paying the price right now by putting in the work,’’ he said. “We’re not waiting for the season to happen before we try to find out things. We’re trying to be perfect now, and that’s what excites me.’’
Nate Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.