October 16, 2004
BY: Christopher Price
For the most part, this year’s collection of Patriots’ defensive linemen aren’t the most talkative sort. Jarvis Green, Ty Warren, Keith Traylor and Marquise Hill make Marcel Marceau look like a chatterbox. So when you get a talkative lineman in the New England locker room, he tends to stand out. Especially a rookie.
That’s where Big Daddy comes in. On a team full of fairly vanilla bland personalities, rookie lineman Vince Wilfork comes off looking like Bill O’Reilly at the Democratic National Convention. Patriots’ beat reporters like to joke that he hasn’t had the chip planted in his brain by the New England coaching staff, the one that removes all sense of individualism and personality and forces players to hit on the same topics time and time again. We don’t care about the streak. All we want to do is go 1-0 against the (insert name of team here). We’re just taking things one game at a time.
For example, listen to him talk about Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, a team he said he “hated” when he was growing up: “How good can I feel?” he asked with a big smile after the game. “Just think about it, being from Florida and beating up on the Dolphins and setting the record against them. How do you think I feel?”
Big talk for a rookie, but Big Daddy has been able to back it up. The University of Miami product was a first-round pick of the Pats last spring, and after he and fellow rookie Ben Watson became the first rookies to draw a start in the home opener in the Bill Belichick Era, he has played very well for a rookie. He scooped up a key fumble in the win over the Colts, helping stop an Indianapolis drive deep in New England territory. And through the first four games of the season, he has 14 tackles and two sacks. Against the Dolphins, he had what he termed “the most complete game” of his brief pro career, as the 23-year-old defensive lineman had seven tackles and one sack on the afternoon, dropping Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler for a 10-yard loss late in the first quarter and helping hold the Dolphin offense to one touchdown on the afternoon.
“The main thing I wanted to do was leave a mark on that field for the people back home watching me play that I could play ball,” Wilfork said. “I know there was a lot of people back home watching. I know my old teammates, they saw some of the game.”
A lot different than the tradition Belichickian party line. While the head coach hasn’t commented on Wilfork’s off-field stream of consciousness, he does like what the rookie has been able to do on the field at nose tackle.
“He understands what we’re trying to do, and he’s trying to do it,” Belichick said earlier this week. “You see a lot of different blocking combinations on that nose position -- as we’ve talked about before, with the guards uncovered -- and sometimes you have backs in there whamming and stuff like that, so there are a lot of different looks.
“But I think he’s getting better at them, and there is still a lot for him to see and a lot to react to. It’s not an easy position to play.”
Indeed, playing nose tackle is much more than simply getting a push. Former New England defensive lineman Anthony Pleasant said last year that it usually takes a defensive lineman at least three years before they pick up all the secrets of how to succeed in the trenches.
But at the rate Wilfork is maturing, he could break that rule easily.
“There’s a lot of studying and watching film of people I’m going against in practice, certain moves I want to learn. I could sit back now and say where I’m to the point where I’m satisfied with my play,” he said. “But like I said, you can always get better. That’s my thing. As long as I keep making progress, that’s a positive for me. That’s something I’m going to do.”
Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and BostonPressBox.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.