Wilfork, Anchor In Midst Of New Faces

Patriots DL Vince Wilfork is the veteran presence to a group of fresh faces on defense.

Wilfork enters 9th season with more new teammates
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. (AP)

Vince Wilfork is getting used to some new playing partners along the defensive line - again.

Entering his ninth season, the Patriots slimmed-down lineman is working with veteran newcomers Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott and rookies Chandler Jones, a first-round pick, and Jake Bequette, taken in the third.

Gone from last season are Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, Shaun Ellis and Mike Wright.

''I can play with anybody,'' Wilfork said Wednesday. ''That's just the trust I have in those guys to learn what they have to learn.''

After playing 122 regular-season games, and missing just six, since being drafted by New England in the first round in 2004, he can help them do that.

''If they have questions, they can always ask me because I've been around this for a little bit,'' he said. ''Not saying I know everything, but I've been around for a while and kind of know what to expect. So, I think we all do a real good job of helping one another.''

Wilfork was a presence in the postseason at Gillette
Wilfork received plenty of help as a rookie when he started six games at nose tackle. Then Richard Seymour, Ty Warren and Keith Traylor were the primary starters in the three-man line.

Since then, other starters along the defensive line included Jarvis Green, Ron Brace, Derrick Burgess, Tully Banta-Cain, Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren, Landon Cohen, Kyle Love, Myron Pryor, Eric Moore and Rob Ninkovich.

Some started just one game. Others were longtime teammates of Wilfork.

''You get attached to some people,'' Wilfork said. ''I remember coming in, I had Richard Seymour, Jarvis Green, Ty Warren next to me, and (Mike) Vrabel and Willie McGinest. Over the years things changed.

''I've been around long enough to understand how this thing goes, and if they need my help, I'm always here. But it's tough because you get attached to people and you get a chance to know people off the field, not just on the field - the families and stuff like that. So, for people to move on, it can be heartbreaking at times. But, at the same time, change always happens at this level. So, you have to get used to it real quick.''

Wilfork has lost weight from his usual 330-pound frame.

''I took my offseason real serious,'' he said. ''I do each year. It's just grinding and a lot of hard work. They say the older you get, the harder it is, so I just wanted to be sure I was in tip-top shape coming into camp.''

Wilfork was named to his fourth Pro Bowl last season. But he's not looking back, especially since the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants 21-17 on a last-minute touchdown. It was the final collapse of a defense that allowed the second most yards in the NFL during the regular season.

Carter and Anderson harrassed opposing QBs, but both are gone now.
''You can't pay attention to last year,'' Wilfork said. ''You've got to move forward. Each year is different.''

The Patriots used six of their seven draft picks on defensive players, including linebacker Dont'a Hightower in the first round, and added veterans Steve Gregory and Will Allen to the secondary, Bobby Carpenter at linebacker and Scott and Fanene to the line.

''Hopefully, these guys can help this ballclub,'' Wilfork said. ''I'm excited to play with these guys.''

The Patriots need to improve their pass rush. It doesn't help that the players who led them with 10 sacks each last year are gone. Anderson agreed with the Buffalo Bills, and Carter is unsigned.

New England also has a new defensive line coach, Patrick Graham. He handled the linebackers last season.

''Patrick's pretty smart,'' Wilfork said. ''When we have meetings if he has a question, he can always ask and it's been working well for us. ... You have changes, we have to adapt to those changes. I think we're doing a great job in the defensive line room because we all talk the same thing, the same way.''

The Patriots used both a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive alignment last season. So, a defensive end in college may find himself playing some outside linebacker in the pros. Whatever works for New England.

''It's a big transition for those players if they're in coverage,'' coach Bill Belichick said. ''That's something that they're not used to doing.''

But, if any of the youngsters need help, Wilfork is ready to provide it. He's been there, done that.

''We do a real good job of helping one another,'' he said. ''Guys who have been in the room for a couple of years are forced to be more and more of a leader.''

---

NOTES: The Patriots said 22,633 spectators attended the team's only evening training camp practice on Wednesday. It was held inside Gillette Stadium, rather than on the adjacent practice fields, in front of season-ticket holders and Foxborough residents. ... New England opens its preseason schedule next Thursday at home against the New Orleans Saints. ... The Patriots went 2-2 last preseason.


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