The English came quickly enough as Vollmer embarked on a course of study that would provide him with degrees in both economics and communications.
“I picked it up pretty fast, within the first semester I guess,” he said. “Just talking to people, friends and my girlfriend, who would correct you when you said something wrong.”
Vollmer began his football apprenticeship as a redshirt, which he concluded was normal.
“I don’t think I was ever given a choice,” he said. “I just assumed that’s the way it was done. It was just that. I never really thought about it. Most guys did it.”
After playing eight games as a backup tight end as a redshirt freshman, Vollmer missed the following season after back surgery. When he returned in 2007, he was a left tackle making his starting debut at Oregon in front of more than 57,000 Duck devotees, which were approximately 56,800 more spectators than the parents and girlfriends who’d watched his games in Dusseldorf.
Vollmer ended up starting every Saturday in his final two seasons, providing the big push for an offense that averaged more than 40 points and 560 yards when he was a senior.
Averting his eyes
While Vollmer’s sheer mass and might were attractive, it was unclear what kind of pro prospect he’d be.
“He was just, I would say, in general, behind,” recalled Belichick.
The language issue, his back injury, his middling college films, his performance in the East-West Game, and the question of whether he was a left or right tackle all seemed to argue against Vollmer being picked early, which likely is why he wasn’t invited to the February combine and wasn’t glued to the set on draft day.
“It’s not so much that I wasn’t interested, but I told myself I was not going to freak myself out for 10 hours or however long it is,” he said. “I watched some of it. I’d turn the TV on, but I knew beforehand I wasn’t just going to sit there and watch it. People had me over for a barbecue — it was an unrelated event.”
After New England got a closer look (offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia had run Houston’s pro day), Vollmer began looking better.
“As we worked him out and got to know him, all those things cleared themselves up,” said Belichick.
The Patriots didn’t have a first-round pick, but after they used their first three second-round selections on defenders Patrick Chung, Ron Brace, and Darius Butler, they scooped up Vollmer as the 58th player overall and the 11th offensive lineman.
A franchise that had won three Super Bowls by mining overlooked gems had come up with another.
“They did their research, they did their homework, and they selected a player that certainly had a tremendous amount of upside and talent,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was the Broncos head coach that year.
Adaptable and durable
With Matt Light on the back end of his career, New England needed someone in the pipeline. Still, few observers on either side of the Atlantic figured that Vollmer would blossom as quickly as he did.
“When he was drafted, we said, ‘Hmm, we will see,’ ” said Springwald. “We are a little surprised that he made it so fast.”
So were the Patriots, who considered him a work in progress.
“I don’t think any of us really thought that he would be able to contribute much as a rookie,” said Belichick, who likens Vollmer’s rapid evolution to that of Steve Neal, the former Olympic wrestler who played guard for New England. “We kind of saw him as a developmental player that might take a while but, of course, he played quite a bit his rookie year.”
What Vollmer had going for him, besides his altitude and avoirdupois, was his uncommon intelligence and flexibility.
“He’s very quick-witted and thinks quickly and adapts quickly and can really process information probably as well as anybody can,” assessed Belichick, who had no problem starting Vollmer in last season’s Super Bowl after he’d missed the previous seven games with foot and ankle injuries.
Moving from the left side of the line to the right, which Vollmer did after his rookie season, was no problem.
“Whatever they tell me, I do,” he said.
If a tight end or two were to go down, Vollmer happily would step in.
“I don’t know if you want to see me on a route,” he said. “But you never know.”
Until then, he’ll be a fixture on the O-line, an established presence in a locker room that has only a half-dozen draftees with longer tenure.
“He’s been durable, he’s tough, he’s athletic, he’s strong — one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen,” testified Brady. “He’s got a great attitude. It’s always about the team. He’s a great player.”Continued...