Friday, March 7, 2014
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Vince Wilfork is listed as weighing 325 pounds on the New England Patriots roster.
Vince Wilfork is part of a New England defense that was almost dead last in the NFL last year, but allocated seven veteran free agents and five draft picks to defense this year.
The Associated Press
One look at the slimmed-down Wilfork, now in his ninth training camp with the Patriots, and you know that's not true. Then again, Wilfork was listed at 325 pounds last year and you knew that wasn't true either.
Last year he weighed much more than 325. This year, it looks like he weighs much less.
"I lost a couple of pounds, no big deal," was all Wilfork would say.
Actually, it is. By coming into camp in the best shape of his career, the 31-year-old Wilfork is showing everyone just how much this season means to him.
"They say the older you get, the harder it gets, so I wanted to make sure I'm in tip-top shape coming into camp," said Wilfork. "Coming in for nine years, I just want to make sure I have good conditioning, that my body feels good. And it does."
The new-look Wilfork could be the poster child for the Patriots defense. Once again, New England is going to possess one of the top offenses in the league, with quarterback Tom Brady throwing to the deepest, most talented, crew of receivers he's ever had: wideouts Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth and Matthew Slater (whose true value is on special teams) and tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Visanthe Shiancoe.
The Patriots are going to score points. Lots of them.
It's going to be up to the defense to make sure they're enough. Last year the Patriots had the 31st-ranked defense in the 32-team NFL. Its weaknesses were glaring: poor pass rush, poor coverage in the secondary, poor tackling.
This offseason, the New England brain trust made move after move to correct that. New England signed seven veteran free agents -- defensive backs Will Allen, Steve Gregory and Marquice Cole, linebackers Bobby Carpenter and Trevor Scott, linemen Jonathan Fanene and Marcus Harrison -- and used its first five draft picks on defensive players, led by first-round selections Chandler Jones, a pass rusher from Syracuse, and Dont'a Hightower, an athletic linebacker from Alabama.
Obviously their presence is no guarantee for success -- other veterans and rookies have been brought in before -- but, said Wilfork, it's a start.
"It's definitely (heading) in the right direction, that's all I can say," said Wilfork of the moves, after the first practice session of training camp. "I don't know what's going to happen beyond that, you know, but it's a step in the right direction. And that's all you can ask for right now."
Gregory, who played the last six seasons with San Diego, worked out with the first group of defensive backs in the first practice, joining cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty, and safety Patrick Chung. Carpenter, a former first-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2006, was on the field a lot with the linebackers, as was Hightower, who has drawn praise from the Patriots staff whenever his name is mentioned.
"He's a smart kid," said Coach Bill Belichick, "and he definitely understands football and football concepts."
Jones, who brings a dimension to the defense that has been lacking with his size and speed, is just trying to learn as much as he can right now, calling himself a sponge trying to soak in as much info as he can. "We have a nice brother system from Tom Brady to Vince Wilfork," he said. "The whole team, they do a good job of putting their wing around the rookies and the new guys and get us moving forward."
Jones likes the way the rookies have bonded. "We kind of all knew each other before," he said, noting that he played against some and met others at the rookie combine. "I was following them on Twitter before we even got drafted. The bond was already there and now it's just a matter of time before we get that trust out on the field."
The new arrivals certainly make the defense younger and more athletic. What that means remains to be seen.
"It's going to be an improving thing every day where we're just trying to get better," said Matt Patricia, the new defensive coordinator. "I think, in general, we're just going to try to go out and run our defense and evolve it every day."
The Patriots have to be better defensively. The Patriots' last two trips to the Super Bowl have ended with crushing last-second losses to the New York Giants when the defense couldn't hold the lead. In between, there was a non-playoff season (when Brady suffered his season-ending knee injury in the first game) and stunning home playoff losses to the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
Wilfork never likes to look too far ahead, but he is excited about the defensive prospects.
"My goal is to give my all to this team," he said. "Hopefully (the young guys) can help this ballclub. I'm excited to play with them. I'm very excited. We'll see how it goes."
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: