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Right on the nose

Posted by Tom Wilcox February 5, 2009 05:55 AM

To get a read on how good Vince Wilfork is, all you have to do is talk to some of the offensive linemen assigned to block the Patriots nose tackle.

ďHeís the type of player you never want to see, and the fact I have to play him two times a year is miserable,Ē said New York Jets center Nick Mangold at the Super Bowl last week.

His numbers arenít as gaudy as those of other Pro Bowl-type players, but Wilfork is widely regarded throughout the league as one of the hardest defenders to block. The massive (6-foot-2, 325 pounds) Wilfork moves extremely well for such a big man.

Despite playing a physically demanding position, the 27-year-old appears to be entering his prime. He has missed just three games in his five years in the league. Against constant double teams, primarily setting up his teammates to make plays, Wilfork was third on the team with 66 tackles in 2008.

Bill Belichick and his staff figure to have a big decision on their hands after the 2009 season when Wilfork becomes a free agent. With Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, and Ellis Hobbs also entering the final year of their contracts, the Patriots will have to determine how much they want to commit to Wilfork in the long term.

Wilfork is still playing under his rookie contract (six years, $18 million), which he signed in 2004 when he was drafted No. 21 overall out of Miami. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2007.

Seymour has a $9.7 million salary-cap figure in the final year of his deal next season, and that could lead the team to restructure his deal to make it more cap-friendly. The third member of the defensive line, Ty Warren, is signed through 2013. But the nose tackle might be the most important spot in New Englandís base 3-4 defense, because many plays call for him to take on two linemen.

Things have been quiet in terms of a contract extension but could heat up once free agency starts on Feb. 27. If Wilfork does hit the open market after this season, you can bet there would be plenty of interest throughout the league.

Harrison weighs his options
When Rodney Harrison was carted off the field after suffering a season-ending right quadriceps injury on Oct. 20 against the Broncos, it appeared the emotional strong safety was waving goodbye to Patriots fans as he left the field.

The gesture may indeed have been a farewell to New England, but Harrison hasnít decided whether he will retire or return for a 16th NFL season.

ďIím at a point right now where Iím really rehabbing,Ē Harrison told reporters at the Super Bowl in Tampa last week. ďI know I can still play and even maybe five years from now I would believe that, whereas my body is telling me that you canít.

ďRight now, Iím doing a lot better and I canít honestly say if Iím going to play or not right now. Iím up in the air. Right now, Iím focusing on being able to run up and down the bases with my son, so once thatís established, then Iíll decide if I want to play or not.Ē

The 36-year-old safetyís contract ended after the 2008 season. He could return with any team in the league or rejoin the Patriots for a seventh season. Harrison said playing for the Patriots was ďthe greatest football experience of my life.

ďIf that door is open, if they want to move forward, if itís something I want to do and Bill [Belichick] allows me to do it, then maybe thatís the choice,Ē he said. ďIf not, weíll have to look at other things.Ē

But Harrison does seem ready for retirement. Heís been doing television work as an analyst to see if heíd like to pursue broadcasting after his playing career officially ends.

Secretary of defense
Patriots running back Sammy Morris was part of a contingent from the NFL that visited the troops in Iraq last week and watched Super Bowl XLIII with them.

New Englandís leading rusher is blogging about the trip on NFL.com. His 12-hour trip to Kuwait started with a snowstorm delaying his departure from Logan Airport.

ďItís one thing to play really well and beat the eventual NFC Super Bowl representative 47-7,Ē Morris wrote. ďItís another to trek from my house to the airport and make a flight Ö an international flight at that!Ē

Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots for OT and can be reached at twilcox@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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