Big Vince Wilfork leads Patriots defensive linemen

Vince Wilfork doesn’t dwell on the task he did poorly in last
year’s playoffs. He’s too busy handling the jobs he does well.

The dean of the New England Patriots defensive line is, by his
own description, a player, a mentor to young teammates and an
adviser to them in the film room.

But he’s also the massive nose tackle who got shoved aside when
Ray Rice ran for an 83-yard touchdown on the first play of the
Baltimore Ravens’ 33-14 playoff win a year ago, a play Wilfork says
he never revisits in his mind.

”We’re a different ball club,” he said Thursday. ”Last year
was last year. I don’t pay attention from the last game of this
season (back to) my rookie year because every year is different.
The only thing you can do is prepare well. If you prepare well,
you’ll step on the field, you’ll have a lot of confidence in
yourself and your teammates.”

That should help the Patriots when they try to stop another
potent running attack in their first playoff game this season, at
home Sunday against the New York Jets.

In that first-round loss to the Ravens, the Patriots allowed 234
yards and four touchdowns rushing, with Rice running for 159 yards
and two scores and Willis McGahee picking up 62 yards and one
touchdown.

Now Wilfork, listed conservatively at 325 pounds, will have to
throw his body in front of another one-two punch – LaDainian
Tomlinson and Shonn Greene – that has led the Jets to the fourth
most yards rushing in the NFL.

In last Saturday night’s 17-16 playoff win over Indianapolis,
Tomlinson rushed for 82 yards and two touchdown and Greene gained
70 on the ground.

”You’ve got two great backs,” Wilfork said. ”They’re known
for powering the rock. The offensive line is known for being
physical.”

New England’s run defense improved as the season went on and
young players gained experience. Rookies Brandon Deaderick, a
seventh-round draft pick, and Kyle Love, a free agent, have made
contributions on the defensive line – with Wilfork’s guidance.

”I don’t know if I’m a player, I’m a coach, I’m a mentor, you
name it,” said Wilfork, in his seventh year since the Patriots
drafted him in the first round out of Miami. ”I’m always talking
and teaching and coaching and mentoring, watching film. We do it.
I’m proud to be someone like that that they can actually look up
(to) and ask me for questions and I can give them the right advice.
It’s been kind of fun.”

Wilfork is in his third year as a co-captain and was chosen this
season for his third Pro Bowl. He can help youngsters learn how to
line up at the right angle, fight off a block or stand up an
offensive lineman so a linebacker can slip past to make a
tackle.

Love couldn’t pinpoint the most important thing he’s been taught
by Wilfork.

”I’ve learned everything from him,” he said.

Wilfork’s influence extends beyond the defensive line.
Second-year safety Patrick Chung looks up to him, too.

”There are times in a game where he will say, ‘Hey, get it
together,’ ” Chung said, and his teammates think, ”’Oh, all
right. Let’s go. Let’s do this.’ He’s a great leader.”

Wilfork has grown into that role over the past few years as
veteran linemen who were drafted by the Patriots departed.

Richard Seymour arrived in 2001 but was traded to Oakland before
the 2009 opener. Jarvis Green came in 2002 but left as a free agent
after the 2009 season. Ty Warren, a rookie in 2003, has spent all
season on injured reserve with a hip injury. Gerard Warren was
drafted in 2001 but didn’t join the Patriots until this season
after stops in Cleveland, Denver and Oakland.

Wilfork learned how to lead from Seymour, Willie McGinest, Tedy
Bruschi, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison and other former Patriots. Now
he’s the player teammates look to for advice.

”It was easy for me to come in and pick those guys’ brains. I
was never the shy type,” Wilfork said. ”They taught me what it
takes to be a leader. A lot of people may think that you have to
talk all the time to be a leader. That’s not what it’s all about.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t lead with his mouth.

”He’s demanding and that’s what you need as a leader, but he’s
fair,” running back Fred Taylor said. ”He’ll make sure he coaches
things that he sees or areas that he thinks need to be lifted.
He’ll make sure to oversee those areas. He’s not going to do
anything that he wouldn’t do himself.”

Once he takes the field against quarterback Mark Sanchez and the
Jets offense, his biggest job will be playing, not teaching.

”Vince is one of the team captains elected by his peers,”
coach Bill Belichick said, ”but his role is the same as everybody
else’s, which is to do their job and be ready to play, play at a
high level and perform consistently. … He’s played in a lot of
big games. He’s an outstanding player, so I think he’s looked up to
by everyone.”

His next big game is Sunday. Wilfork doesn’t want it to start
like his only playoff game last year when he was blocked, opening a
hole for Rice to run through.

He certainly doesn’t want it to end the way that game did.

”You lose this one,” Wilfork said, ”you go home.”