2 rookies likely to step in for injured Wilfork

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm •  Published: October 2, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Vince Wilfork helped his rookie backups as they tried to learn the New England Patriots' complex defense.

Now, results of his teaching could be tested.

The star defensive tackle is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon. That should mean more playing time for Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. Vellano wasn't drafted and Jones already has been cut by two teams.

"Obviously, somebody is going to have to replace him," New England coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday, "but, collectively, as a team, we're all going to have to pull together. There's no one person that can replace Vince Wilfork."

The five-time Pro Bowl player is probably heavier than his listed weight of 325 pounds. Vellano is listed at 300 and Smith at 309. And they're way behind him — about nine years — in knowing what to do in the middle of the defensive line.

Wilfork, drafted by the Patriots in the first round in 2004, has missed just six games in his career. But he was injured on the Patriots' first defensive series of their 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday night. He underwent surgery, and his wife tweeted a photo of him on a recliner and giving a thumbs-up sign while his right foot was in a cast.

"Vince was the rock in there, man," safety Steve Gregory said. "He's a heck of a football player and a big loss for our team."

He still should be around Gillette Stadium, rehabbing and eventually attending team meetings.

"You can't learn enough from him. He's miles ahead of everybody, so you're trying to just pick up here and there," Vellano said. "Vince is irreplaceable, one of the best guys at the position and a leader."

The Patriots signed Vellano in early May, about a week after he went undrafted out of Maryland. He played in 38 percent of the snaps in the first three games, then in 43 percent against Atlanta. He picked up his first sack against the Falcons.

Jones was drafted by the Houston Texans out of Bowling Green in the sixth round. He was waived on Aug. 31 and claimed by Tampa Bay. But he was inactive for the Buccaneers' opener on Sept. 8 and released two days later. He signed with the Patriots the next day.

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