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Wilfork makes presence felt

As expected, nose tackle shows for Patriots' camp

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By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / June 11, 2009
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FOXBOROUGH - Nose tackles usually toil in anonymity, but Vince Wilfork was front and center yesterday after he ended his string of offseason absences by showing up for the first day of the Patriots' three-day mandatory minicamp as expected.

Wilfork, who is entering the final year of his six-year rookie deal, had abstained from all of the team's voluntary organized team activities to display his dismay over the lack of progress on a new deal that would keep him clogging the middle of New England's 3-4 defense.

However, the no longer no-show nose tackle sounded a conciliatory tone yesterday, saying there is no bad blood between himself and the Patriots and implying that he will not skip the start of training camp next month.

"I love football," said Wilfork. "It's something mandatory. I signed a six-year deal. I'm going to meet all my obligations and that's being here for mandatory stuff. That's why I was here. It wasn't a big deal if I was going to show up or not. All this while, I knew where I kind of wanted to be. At the same time, I still had some uncertainty of what was going on, and do I really want to come out here? But at the end of the day, I felt it was best for me to come out here, and it's best for the organization to know that I am out here. At the end of the day, I'm still a Patriot and I want to be a Patriot."

While he was happy to be back with his teammates, Wilfork had 500,000 reasons to return to the team since he potentially risked forfeiting that amount of dollars - a prorated portion of the signing bonus from the rookie deal he signed in 2004 - if he didn't show up.

Wilfork said his potential loss of income wasn't a big factor.

"I was aware of that for a while, but I wouldn't say that played a big part in my decision to come here," he said of the forfeiture language. "I told you that it's in my contract, to be here. I live up to my word. It's mandatory, I will be here. I don't care what it is."

Wilfork said he wasn't worried about his attendance at minicamp weakening his bargaining position. But Wilfork's presence should not be interpreted as a signal that he's backing off his desire for a new deal, only a sign that he's leaving the posturing to his agent, Kennard McGuire.

"Six years in I want to get locked up because I don't want to go into the free market because it's a possibility that if I reach that part I won't be here, and I don't want that to happen," said Wilfork. "So, that's why I'm doing everything in my power that I can do to try to stick around and get something done before the end of this season. I'm pretty sure the Patriots are going to do the same thing. There is no bad blood between us. The organization knows me as a person and a player. The Krafts are the same way, and they know what type of person I am. But I can only do what I can do and that's just play football."

The next big date looming for Wilfork and the Patriots could be the start of training camp in late July. The Patriots are no stranger to training camp holdouts, having endured them with Richard Seymour, Deion Branch, and Asante Samuel.

Wilfork certainly sounded as if he planned on being at training camp, even saying he was looking forward to the first day.

What if there still isn't progress toward a new contract and his agent advises him to sit out training camp?

"It's still my decision. I'll talk to my wife [Bianca] and see what it may be," said Wilfork. "It's hard to tell a guy who loves the game the way I love it to sit out. Even the OTAs that weren't mandatory, it was tough for me because I love football, but at the same time I knew the situation I'm in. It wasn't mandatory, so . . . I could sit out those. But now everything is starting to pick up, a lot of game-planning stuff is starting to go in that I need to be here for, and I'm going to be here for, so that's what it is, and I'm looking forward to the season right now."

The end of the nose tackle's absence was viewed by Patriots owner Robert Kraft as a good sign.

"I think so," said Kraft. "Vince is a very special guy. While touring the [General Electric] plant up in Lynn [yesterday], the question that kept coming up was, 'We're not going to let Vince get out of here, are we?' So, he has a lot of fans in this region, and we all realize how special he is."

Only time - and continued negotiations - will tell if the feel-good milieu of Wilfork's return is merely a mirage.

Wilfork made his point by boycotting OTAs. Yesterday, he was smart enough not to antagonize the team upon his return.

"I wasn't trying to make a point," claimed Wilfork of his absence. "I didn't leave them in the [dark]. I told them I wasn't coming. They understand the business aspect to it. We're moving forward from here. My first day back, I'm happy. This is my life. Football is my life. This is what I love, my family knows I love it, but at the same time I have to do what is smart for my family. Right now, the smart thing is to be here, playing football, what I do best. Let's see what happens from here."

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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