SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Mike Vrabel's hands are big, thick and scarred - and they might just be the most reliable pair on the New England Patriots.
He only has 10 career catches, including two this season, but they've all been for touchdowns. Not too shabby for a Pro Bowl linebacker.
'If you're saying I can catch the ball when I'm wide open, yeah, I think I can do that,' Vrabel said with a grin Thursday.
If Tom Brady and Randy Moss weren't enough to worry about, the New York Giants also have to keep their eyes on Vrabel if he jogs onto the field with New England's offense during the Super Bowl
'I'm kind of jealous,' center Dan Koppen said, keeping a straight face. 'I mean, he's a defensive guy and he's getting the ball thrown to him and he's making touchdowns. He has tremendous hands. He has them in practice and if you have a guy like that, why not use him?'
Which is exactly what coach Bill Belichick thinks. He'll often put Vrabel, a former high school tight end, into the game as a blocker when the Patriots are near the goal line.
'It's selling out to stop the run and Mike is used both as a blocker and a receiver in many of the situations he's been thrown to for TDs,' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. 'Everybody tries to say it's as balanced as can be, but the truth would be it's none of that. It's a sellout for the run.'
Sometimes, including twice in previous Super Bowls, Vrabel will come off a block, rumble into the end zone and catch a touchdown pass.
'I don't know how he does it,' wide receiver Jabar Gaffney said. 'Most of his concentration is on the defensive side, but he has great hands. Well, great hands for a linebacker.'
Six of Vrabel's catches have been for 1 yard, while the other four all went for 2 yards.
'Nobody can stop him right now, so he just keeps doing it,' receiver Chad Jackson said. 'I mean, what's a linebacker doing out there catching passes?'
Especially in the Super Bowl. Vrabel had a 1-yard TD reception against Carolina in the big game in 2004 and a 2-yarder against Philadelphia the following year, so the Giants are well aware that Vrabel could pose double trouble for them Sunday.
'He's been doing it so long, and he does a great job down there because he has such a good set of hands,' said Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who could end up covering him on such plays. 'It works so well because of the surprise factor. We have to treat him as a tight end, not look at is a linebacker in there.'
Now, back to Vrabel's hands. They certainly don't look like the paws of a touchdown-grabbing receiver. They're rugged, the way a linebacker's hands normally look. They also have a few nicks on them, evidence of a career filled with lots of tough tackles.
'Nah, he's got nice hands,' Koppen said. 'He goes for the manicures and the pedicures and goes and gets his beard trimmed. He likes staying clean and moisturized. He's a little pretty for a defensive guy.'
That's not quite the reputation someone like Vrabel wants to have.
'I think he's a tough-grinding guy, a rough guy, but he likes to keep mousse in his hair and get nice haircuts and keep his fingers trimmed,' defensive end Jarvis Green said. 'Nah, but he's definitely a defensive guy at heart.'
Vrabel is having the best of his 11 NFL seasons, earning his first Pro Bowl selection with a career-high 121/2 sacks, 77 tackles and four forced fumbles. During his first four seasons with Pittsburgh, he was merely a backup.
'I don't think I did enough there to warrant Bill Cowher giving me any more playing time than he was giving me,' Vrabel said. 'The last year, I think that I played one series in each half. I appreciate that opportunity and I think it was time to move on.'
Vrabel signed with the Patriots as a free agent in 2001, immediately stepping into a starting role and helping New England win a Super Bowl. He's helped them win two more while becoming a cornerstone of the defense.
'Vrabel's a guy with many hats,' Green said. 'He brings a lot to the table, man. For him to be in his 11th season and have the best year of his career and going to the Pro Bowl, that's an amazing thing.'
And so is his knack for making big things happen on offense near the goal line.
'I've always just tried to work out with the quarterbacks, catch the ball, run routes and mess around,' said Vrabel, who switched from tight end to defensive end at Ohio State. 'It just kind of evolved into the goal-line package.'
During Vrabel's first season with New England, quarterback Drew Bledsoe approached Belichick about using the linebacker on offense. Vrabel got the call the following year, catching a 1-yard pass from Brady in a loss at San Diego.
'He'll sometimes come in on scout offense and run a few plays just to give the defense a good look,' safety Ray Ventrone said. 'He really understands how to use his body and how to elude the defender.'
That's what it takes to become a big-time offensive threat.
'No, man,' Gaffney said with a big laugh. 'We don't think of him like that. We consider him a defensive guy that just tries to steal all of our passes.'