Only half of the Super Bowl XLIX team remains in the New England Patriots’ fold.
Joe Vellano isn’t a part of that group.
The well-traveled defensive tackle is, however, slated to catch up with his old club next Sunday night in Houston.
Vellano did not see the field two Februaries ago as the Patriots survived the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 28-24 in Glendale. The former Maryland All-American, who went undrafted in 2013 and appeared in 21 games with nine starts to post 60 tackles and three sacks through his first two NFL seasons, stood among New England’s inactives after being promoted from the practice squad that winter.
But Vellano got his ring.
The 28-year-old is now back with an opportunity to gather another.
Vellano checks in as the lone ex-Patriot on the Atlanta Falcons’ 53-man roster. Fellow defensive tackle Jimmy Staten, a member of New England’s practice squad in 2015, is also in the mix beneath a coaching staff that includes the likes of Steve Scarnecchia, Bryan Cox and Jerome Henderson, and a personnel department that is manned by Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli and Joel Collier.
The latter names are more prominent. Yet, Vellano is the most recent member of Patriots past. He, too, has earned his chance to revisit the organization that first signed him – and then a couple times over.
It’s hard not to root for him.
Following a brief stint on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad in 2015, Vellano returned to Foxborough on a reserve-futures contract soon after New England fell to the Denver Broncos in last year’s AFC Championship Game. His return, however, would consist of nine tackles over four preseason contests and conclude with his release during the cut to 53.
Vellano’s exit, days after he lost his Attleboro home in a fire, went quietly.
And quietly, Vellano proceeded to find a place on Atlanta’s 10-man scout team during its Sept. 6 formation.
It’s a location in which the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder remained for the entirety of the regular season, lining up opposite quarterback Matt Ryan – whom he brought down for a sack during his rookie campaign – in practice. But the behind-the-scenes work would eventually give way to open doors for a player who hadn’t played in a regular-season game in two years.
On Jan. 17, the Falcons elevated Vellano to the active roster in wake of Adrian Clayborn’s placement on injured reserve.
How long he will stay there remains uncertain. His journey has had many stops. Even so, the next one has the potential to bring things full circle for the undersized and often-overlooked defensive lineman.
Vellano could find himself on the outside looking in when Atlanta’s seven inactives hit the wire 90 minutes before Super Bowl LI’s 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff. But that was not the case in the club’s 44-21 NFC title victory over the Green Bay Packers last weekend, when Vellano, donning No. 92, stepped in for 18 snaps.
On the back end of an interior rotation that includes talented youth in Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman, along with a veteran presence in Jonathan Babineaux, Vellano notched one tackle.
Perhaps he’ll get another versus New England. The Patriots, though, will hope that a ring won’t come along with it.