FOXBOROUGH — Now that the reality of not having Vince Wilfork in uniform is settling in — the defensive tackle wasn’t at Wednesday’s practice, the first on-field workout since he tore his right Achilles’ — his defensive teammates are steeling themselves for what comes next.
The consensus: Everyone else will have to step up.
“Having Vince injured definitely is something that you don’t want to have happened, but we can’t really dwell on the fact that he’s not out there with us,” said Rob Ninkovich. “We just have to continue to push on and have other guys try and step up and do some of the things that he can do to the best of their abilities, and then other guys on the defense, like myself, have to step up and make more plays.”
Other players will be gaining an opportunity to play more in Wilfork’s absence, but it’s the loss of the veteran captain that will take some time getting used to, because he’s rarely missed any games since being drafted in 2004.
“Vince was the rock in there, man, he’s a heck of a football player and a big loss for our team, but we pride ourselves on everybody on this roster being able to step up and be ready to go in the game whenever your name is called, so we have guys ready to step up and perform at a high level,” safety Steve Gregory said. “I don’t think you ever replace a guy like Vince Wilfork. You just need guys to step up, fill in, and do the best they can, try to understand what we’re trying to do as a defense, try to make plays and keep playing. We’ll have to rally around whoever’s in there.”
Initially, the snaps Wilfork received at defensive tackle (and those have been the vast majority in past years) will likely go to rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. Those two combined to play on 52 of the 66 defensive snaps after Wilfork left Sunday’s game.
The Patriots also could sign someone from the outside.
“That just tells me I need to get better,” said Jones, when asked if he’s bolstered by the fact the Patriots haven’t made any roster additions at defensive tackle. “I need to keep practicing, getting better. You can’t really replace a player like Vince, but all we can do is keep practicing harder and getting better as a whole.”