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Wilfork received good deal of power

By Albert R. Breer
Globe Staff / March 11, 2010

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Too often, coaches are held to one standard and players to a higher one, when the burden should be reversed. And so it is that today, finally, Vince Wilfork can be a leader for the Patriots.

Ask yourself this: Why didn’t Cowboys owner Jerry Jones simply pick up Wade Phillips’s option for 2010, rather than extend him through the ’11 season? For that matter, why didn’t Chargers owner Dean Spanos let Norv Turner’s current contract go into its final season, 2010, instead of extending Turner through ’12?

Both men got their teams to the divisional round of the playoffs, but with monstrous expectations staring them down, you could easily argue that Turner and Phillips should have been pushed to the plank after losing.

Jones and Spanos knew better than to do that.

The reason isn’t hard to figure. It would be near-impossible for coaches to control their teams through adversity with every player knowing the guy in charge could well be getting whacked.

Ask Jim Zorn about that predicament. Or, for that matter, Vince Wilfork.

The Patriots made the big nose tackle a captain in 2009, but without a new contract, that “C’’ didn’t carry all the juice it should have. Wilfork didn’t know what the future held for him and neither did his teammates. So he led the way he always had, by example, and couldn’t carry a torch that was first fumbled (following the departures of Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel), then started a brushfire that left the season in ashes.

Things have since changed. That’s what a five-year, $40 million deal will do for your stature within an organization.

Wilfork didn’t just get rich when the deal was struck. He got power, too. And if there was one thing abundantly clear in yesterday’s 28-minute conference call with the media, it’s that he plans to use it.

“Some people are vocal leaders,’’ Wilfork said. “I led by example. I’ve said things when I had to say it, but now all of us have to rise. We have to raise our level of play. If something is wrong, we have to address it. We can’t let it go on. We have to address it and get it better and people have to realize that we’re trying to get somewhere.

“It’s nothing personal. If you don’t want to win, you don’t have to be here, point blank. So if you want to win, this is how we’re going to have to do it.

“You’ve got to be the believer and you’ve got to go forward, and you might have to do a little something extra. That’s fine. By me doing something extra or by us doing something extra, [if that] gets us to the point we need to be, I’ll do it 100 out of 100 times, point blank.’’

That “something extra’’ is what so many Patriots of the past would do “100 out of 100 times,’’ as well.

But those Lombardi Trophies are getting smaller in the rearview mirror every day. Only Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Stephen Neal, Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Ty Warren, and Wilfork are still hanging on from the roster of that last championship team, while David Patten and Tully Banta-Cain left and came back. That’s nine guys, total.

There were almost that many rookies — six — dressed among the 45 players active for the season finale in Houston. And Wilfork is the only one of the aforementioned nine who won’t be in his 30s by the time the next Super Bowl kicks off.

That’s to say the big nose tackle is a powerful link to the team’s illustrious past and an important part of its future. That’s cemented, finally, and the club can reap benefits it couldn’t possibility have collected on with a contract-year player last year.

“We won around here for a long time and a lot of teams sat back and watched us beat up on people,’’ Wilfork said. “For the last year or two, teams wanted to play us because they thought we weren’t the same. We’ve got to do something to change that. I think it’s going to have to start with the players.

“I think the leaders in this locker room, we’re going to have to approach each other and approach the team and let it know this is how we’ve got to do the things if we want to be successful and go from there.

“But there’s no question in my mind that we have the guys to do that. We’ve got the guys to compete, but we’ve just got to get that out of them.’’

Part of what Wilfork says is very debatable.

George Washington’s leadership wouldn’t fix things to the point where these Patriots can compete for a championship if the talent level remains the problem it so clearly was in 2009.

But if Wilfork backs up his big talk, it’ll go a long way to addressing visceral problems within the team. Which is one big step to returning to the level to which the Patriots had become accustomed.

Was 10-6 a huge failure? No, not really. But around here, it was regarded as one, so plenty must be done to supplement an aging core.

Wilfork’s leadership won’t change the fact that the Patriots need to hit big-time on the four draft picks they have among the top 53 in April. Nor will it change the notion that some younger members of the coaching staff will need to mature and improve to get Bill Belichick back to operating at the ridiculously high level he’s capable of.

The attitude issues, however, can be taken care with No. 75’s expanded presence. He said the Patriots have to “weed out the bad seeds’’ and “build trust.’’ If they do, some — some — of the issues of 2009 will be eradicated.

“If you don’t want to win,’’ Wilfork said, “you don’t have to be here.’’

Wilfork can’t change everything. But by showing him the money, the Patriots have empowered him to do a lot.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at abreer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer.

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