Time on waiting list didn't sit well with Brace
FOXBOROUGH - For six weeks, Ron Brace would report to work at Gillette Stadium, attend meetings with the rest of the Patriots defensive linemen, and sit in the back of a darkened room as they watched film.
As he sat there studying the images on the screen, Brace prepared himself to play even though at the beginning of the season he had been placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, ineligible to play for the first six weeks.
“I’m watching film on everyone except myself,’’ Brace said. “All that film you’re watching, you know you’re not going to be on any of it, but at the same time you’ve got to prepare like you are.’’
Such is life for those on the PUP list. Their designation places them in limbo. Sure, they remain members of the team, but PUP players cannot help but feel they are nonentities as they watch the rest of the team prepare for a game.
“They’ve been working on their own to be ready to practice when they’re cleared to practice - running, lifting, changing directions, different strength, agility, and speed drills,’’ said coach Bill Belichick, when asked what PUP players were allowed to do with the team.
“You’re able to work out,’’ Brace said. “It’s just the physical part that you’re excluded from, which is a really big part.’’
And therein lied the frustration for Brace, a 6-foot-3-inch, 330-pounder in his third season with the Patriots, after being drafted in the second round out of Boston College.
The nature of Brace’s position calls for him to be a physical presence. But there were days when he felt he was nothing more than an apparition, as he went through the grind of his rehab work after undergoing surgery on the triceps tendon of his right elbow, an injury he suffered Dec. 26 at Buffalo.
“I just had to basically take it a day at a time and handle what I could and try to get better,’’ said Brace, who recorded a career-high 28 tackles last season in 13 games, five starts. “It was real frustrating, being on the team but you’re not on the team. It kept me down to earth and forced me to stay focused on my work in the weight room and training room.
“I just did whatever I could do to be ready once my six-week period was over.’’
Tuesday, Brace was activated along with fellow defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick and veteran running back Kevin Faulk. Brace found himself surrounded by reporters in the locker room, asking about what he went through during his protracted in-house exile.
“It was really tough to stay focused, trying to stay in that routine,’’ Brace said. “You’re so close to it, but yet you’re so far from it at the same time. You’re able to work out, but you’re still not out there playing the games or practicing - the main part of the game.’’
Adding to that frustration was the fact the team seemed to place a greater emphasis on creating more pass rush from its front, acquiring free agents such as Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth. Then there were the interceptions by nose tackle Vince Wilfork, which only added to Brace’s sense of urgency to get back on the field.
“I saw [Jets quarterback Mark] Sanchez throw one right in his hands and I was like, ‘I’ve got to get back because they’re giving these away,’ ’’ said Brace, who has never recorded an interception during his pro or college career.
At BC, he teamed with B.J. Raji, now with the Green Bay Packers, to form a formidable defensive wall.
“His role in that defense was to either play on the guard - basically play on the guard one way or the other, either inside shoulder, heads up, or outside shoulder, or to drop into coverage,’’ Belichick said. “They dropped him and Raji a lot. They played a lot of blitz zone and those guys were in coverage a decent amount of time. That’s the scheme they played.’’
With the Patriots, though, Brace is not likely to be called upon to demonstrate his coverage skills. His immediate goal is to get in a game.
“Losing the whole camp, pieces of the season, I knew that practice was a big part of it,’’ said Brace, who hired a personal trainer during the lockout. “We only get so many reps during practice and so many reps during the game, so each rep is valuable and I lost a lot of valuable reps, so I’ve got a lot to make up for.
“The rotation of the defensive line is really good. I’ve still got to find out where I’m going to fit in with the defensive line because I haven’t had a snap since Dec. 26, so I’ve got a lot of learning to do about where I’m going to be and I’ve got a lot of questions [to answer] about myself.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.