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.”