Patriots counting on Wilfork to lead the way

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Somewhere amidst the array of pieces and parts that the Patriots have assembled, there is a pretty good defense. How — and more important, when — that good defense will begin to show itself remains one of the most important questions of New England’s 2010 season.

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a two-time Pro Bowl selection (2007 and 2009).
Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a two-time Pro Bowl selection (2007 and 2009).

There is talent in the secondary, starting with Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather. There is also youth, though, with second-year men Darius Butler and Patrick Chung playing big roles, and rookie Devin McCourty expected to see the field. It’s a similar story at linebacker, where Jerod Mayo established himself as a budding star last year, but a pair of rookies — second-rounders Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham — will be key components.

There will be youth all over the defense, which puts extra pressure on the one unit that will be dominated by veterans — the defensive line. And with the D-line being bolstered by two new players, Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren, with no prior experience in the Patriots’ 3-4 scheme, the maturation of the defense must begin with the big man in the middle, nose tackle Vince Wilfork. In the offseason, the Patriots gave Wilfork a five-year, $40 million contract, signaling the franchise’s commitment to Wilfork as the leader of the defense.

"I think a lot of it is leading by example," Wilfork said. "The last thing we want to do as veterans is not be able to offer a perspective or a role model for the young guys. They ask questions. They want to learn. They make that clear, and you like that. They will ask questions when the coaches are not around. It’s early in camp; we still have a long way to go. But I like where we are at this point, it is going to be a good season for us and for our defense."

Wilfork won’t just be mentoring younger players, though. He will have to help Warren and Lewis — both entering their 10th seasons — adjust to the 3-4, which is not an easy transition for a lineman.

"It’s a totally different ball game playing in a 4-3, where everything is penetrate right off the ball," Lewis said. "This is, you are actually trying to play blocks rather than just getting around guys. That is the biggest difference. It is a very different tempo. It is all a transition, but it has been great having a guy like Vince to learn from."

That gives coach Bill Belichick some comfort, too. He would be much more worried about his defensive line if he did not have Wilfork directing traffic at nose tackle.

"Overall, they have performed very well in the running game, the passing game and in communication. Vince, being in the middle, kind of helps that, because communication starts on the inside and works its way out. Having Vince there for calls and adjustments and alerts has been a good thing."

And on a Patriots defense pocked with question marks, having at least one reliable good thing in place is a comforting start.

Sean Deveney is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at sdeveney@sportingnews.com.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Somewhere amidst the array of pieces and parts that the Patriots have assembled, there is a pretty good defense. How — and more important, when — that good defense will begin to show itself remains one of the most important questions of New England’s 2010 season.

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a two-time Pro Bowl selection (2007 and 2009).
Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a two-time Pro Bowl selection (2007 and 2009).

There is talent in the secondary, starting with Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather. There is also youth, though, with second-year men Darius Butler and Patrick Chung playing big roles, and rookie Devin McCourty expected to see the field. It’s a similar story at linebacker, where Jerod Mayo established himself as a budding star last year, but a pair of rookies — second-rounders Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham — will be key components.

There will be youth all over the defense, which puts extra pressure on the one unit that will be dominated by veterans — the defensive line. And with the D-line being bolstered by two new players, Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren, with no prior experience in the Patriots’ 3-4 scheme, the maturation of the defense must begin with the big man in the middle, nose tackle Vince Wilfork. In the offseason, the Patriots gave Wilfork a five-year, $40 million contract, signaling the franchise’s commitment to Wilfork as the leader of the defense.

"I think a lot of it is leading by example," Wilfork said. "The last thing we want to do as veterans is not be able to offer a perspective or a role model for the young guys. They ask questions. They want to learn. They make that clear, and you like that. They will ask questions when the coaches are not around. It’s early in camp; we still have a long way to go. But I like where we are at this point, it is going to be a good season for us and for our defense."

Wilfork won’t just be mentoring younger players, though. He will have to help Warren and Lewis — both entering their 10th seasons — adjust to the 3-4, which is not an easy transition for a lineman.

"It’s a totally different ball game playing in a 4-3, where everything is penetrate right off the ball," Lewis said. "This is, you are actually trying to play blocks rather than just getting around guys. That is the biggest difference. It is a very different tempo. It is all a transition, but it has been great having a guy like Vince to learn from."

That gives coach Bill Belichick some comfort, too. He would be much more worried about his defensive line if he did not have Wilfork directing traffic at nose tackle.

"Overall, they have performed very well in the running game, the passing game and in communication. Vince, being in the middle, kind of helps that, because communication starts on the inside and works its way out. Having Vince there for calls and adjustments and alerts has been a good thing."

And on a Patriots defense pocked with question marks, having at least one reliable good thing in place is a comforting start.

Sean Deveney is a staff writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at sdeveney@sportingnews.com.

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