COMMENTARY | Over the years, Vince Wilfork has been a huge defensive fixture with the New England Patriots. Yes, I mean huge in every sense of the word. He is 325 pounds, and has been one of the league's top defensive tackles for years. It's no surprise that his injury is so devastating to a Patriots defense that has actually looked pretty good so far this season. For the first time in seemingly forever, the defense has been bailing out the offense on multiple occasions.
Right in line with Bill Belichick's philosophy, it's time for the next man on the depth chart to step up and do his job. Filling in for Wilfork certainly won't be a job tackled by one guy, as he's simply too good of a player to be easily replaced.
Here are three Patriots players on the defensive side of the ball who will need to step up in Vince Wilfork's absence.
It's only his second year in the league, but the Patriots need Jones to be at the top of his game now more than ever.
The former first round pick out of Syracuse already has three sacks this season in just four games. The Patriots will certainly need the pass rush to continue, but he will now need to play an even bigger role in stopping the run. Without Wilfork clogging up the middle, opposing offensive lines will be paying more attention to Jones. The big defensive end will need to find ways to blow up runs in the backfield, as he's simply too valuable of an edge rusher to be neutralized.
Gregory and Devin McCourty will have to make more plays in stopping the run, as the linebackers may be occupied without Wilfork soaking up blockers. Out of the team's safeties, it's more likely that Gregory will help in this aspect.
Belichick might look to get Gregory involved a little more in the box, as they may need the extra body to make a play before a runner can reach the second level. If Aqib Talib keeps playing at such a high level, this will be a no brainer for Belichick. Of course, this is a huge luxury, and we'll need to see if Talib can continue his excellent pass defense.
Gregory probably won't be blowing up the run in the backfield. His role will be to simply limit any big runs and make sure that he can make the tackle if the linebackers aren't able to get free.
It's safe to say the majority of Patriots fans have been happy with Jerod Mayo's services over the years. He racks up big time tackle numbers, and has been one of the team's most reliable linebackers in recent memory. If there's one complaint about Mayo, however, it's that he is not a game changer. He never seems to make the big play.
Without Wilfork in front of him, Mayo won't see very many clear lanes to attack and make a tackle through. Offensive lineman are going to be able to get to the next level from time to time, and Mayo will have to find ways to get off blocks and still make a play. Now more than ever, the Patriots need Jerod Mayo to be more of a play maker.
Mark lives in the Boston area and has been covering New England sports for various blogs over the past 4 years. He has been featured on Fox Sports Yardbarker, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated "Hot Clicks", and has been published on Celtics 24/7, Bleacher Report, and Sports-Kings.
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