Stay-at-home advisories caused by the coronavirus pandemic actually have been a blessing in disguise for New England Patriots free-agent addition Dan Vitale.
The fullback should have been traveling up to Foxboro, Mass., in mid-April to participate in offseason workouts. Instead, he’s in Tampa, Fla., working out on his own and attending meetings virtually.
It’s not all bad. He and his wife, Caley, welcomed their first child, a daughter, Bella, on April 16. He likely would have been away from the family through organized team activities and minicamp in mid-June. Now, he gets to chip in with his newborn daughter.
Vitale, 26, also is not seeing a major difference between learning the playbook on Webex versus in person.
“Relatively speaking, I would say as an older player, it’s pretty similar to what we’d be going through,” Vitale said Thursday in a conference call with the media. “We’re able to watch film and everything. We have our playbooks on our iPads and everything. So, we can look through. As an older player, you kind of know what the job requires, so you know how often you’ve got to be watching film and going through your plays on your own and everything.
“I would say the only difference is we obviously can’t get together on the field right now. But other than that, it’s been really similar. We get to hit a lot of details, which is great.”
Vitale was with the Green Bay Packers in 2018 and 2019. He began his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and also spent time with the Cleveland Browns. Fullbacks around the NFL usually get split into either the running back room or with tight ends. Over the last several years, Patriots fullbacks have worked with tight ends.
“It’s kind of a unique situation for me,” Vitale said. “I’ve jumped around the league a little bit, been in a lot of different rooms — tight end rooms, fullback, running backs rooms, whatever you might call it. I’ve been all over the place. I prepare the same way no matter what room I’m in. I try to learn every single role, every single job, so whenever my number gets called, I’m able to do everything that they ask me and more. Yeah, it’s been interesting, I would say, just my career path being able to do a lot of different things. Just excited to eventually get back here with all of the guys and see where I end up fitting in, for sure.”
Vitale is the favorite to replace retired Patriots fullback James Develin, though he does have some competition in Jakob Johnson. Some of the Patriots’ tight ends also can play a role similar to a fullback. Vitale isn’t focusing on position battles quite yet.
“We all bring something different to the table,” Vitale said. “I think it’s important for all of us to find out exactly what our roles are going to be and being able to do our job to the best of our ability. As an older guy now at this point, I look forward to pushing those younger guys like Jakob, like Dalton (Keene), Jake Burt, anybody really — Devin (Asiasi) — who might be in that role, being able to really push each other, help each other learn. We’re all kind of in the same position right now, obviously, with the virtual meetings, not being able to get on the field. So, just pushing each other. I don’t think you put any pressure on each other to really take one’s job or anything like that. You’re going to go out there and do your job and let the cards fall as they may.”
Vitale said Develin was a player he looked up to. He signed with the Patriots because of their heavy usage of a fullback.