COMMENTARY | Big defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, Vince Wilfork is perhaps more important to the success of the Patriots than any other single defensive player for any other team. His dominance at the line of scrimmage is legendary, and he almost singlehandedly can stop an opposing team's running game, a big reason why New England is currently ranked sixth in the NFL in points allowed.
As important as Wilfork is, coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the team is going to have to find a way to stop opposing offenses without him; Wilfork is expected to miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in his right foot in the Patriots' 30-23 victory over the now 1-3 Atlanta Falcons.
Replacing Wilfork will likely be the 24-year-old Joe Vellano. Vellano, the undrafted rookie out of the University of Maryland, has never started an NFL game and has recorded only 4 tackles and 6 assisted tackles in 4 career appearances. At 6'2" and 285 pounds, his listed weight is 40 pounds less than Wilfork, putting a huge strain on surrounding members of New England's defensive line to pick up the slack against opposing offensive lineman.
It's possible that because of Vellano's size and inexperience, the Patriots may elect to completely revamp their defensive strategy. NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal suggests that defensive end Chandler Jones could move inside to the defensive tackle position permanently, but such a move would significantly hinder New England's ability to get to the quarterback.
Another option is rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones, who at 6'1" and 309 pounds is a little bigger than Vellano and may be able to fill the physical void left by Wilfork a bit better. The problem with Jones is that Belichick and the Patriots don't seem too impressed with what they have seen of the young player from Bowling Green State University so far; his only appearance came in Week 4 against the Falcons after Wilfork went down.
Without a lot of options on the current roster, it's always possible that New England could go searching for a replacement in free agency, but the very flexible Patriots are probably more likely to simply do what they always do: adapt, adjust and find ways to win when no one expects them to.
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Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.
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