Vince Wilfork leading pack of young defensive linemen

FOXBORO -- Inside the Patriots locker room, Vince Wilfork is surrounded by youth. The stalls close by are inhabited by players who are eight-to-10 years younger than the 32-year-old in his 11th pro season. In the down moments when he holds court, guys like Chris Jones (24 years old), Zach Moore (24) and Dominique Easley (22) hang on every word.

It's easy to see why. Not only does Wilfork's resume speak volumes, but the work he's put in this year -- about a year removed from a season-ending Achilles tear -- has been impressive.

After playing in 50 of 55 snaps in Sunday night's win over the Bengals, he's played 246 plays this season, about 75 percent of the team's overall defensive snaps. He has 16 tackles, four quarterback hurries, and he made a game-sealing pick in Week 3 against the Raiders. 

Patriots coach Bill Belichick recognized Wilfork on Wednesday morning, not only for the work he's done on the field coming off of an injury, but also for the time he's put in with his young teammates off of it.

"Vince is always good with that," Belichick said. "I think all the guys are: Chandler [Jones, Jerod [Mayo], [Dont'a Hightower], Rob [Ninkovich]. I think they work well together as a front seven because it's all tied together.

"And the defensive linemen, they support each other, they try to help each other. The guys that have more experience, working with some of the other guys. In the end, everybody's gotta do their job. Obviously Vince has had a big challenge this year himself personally, forget about anybody else. That's the most important thing is for him to handle that. But at the same time, he always gives us great leadership."

With Sealver Siliga on short-term injured reserve, Wilfork will continue to attract attention as the team's space-eater in the middle of the field. But Wilfork is helping break in another young defensive tackle who could provide him some help on the interior. 

The Patriots signed Casey Walker off of the Panthers practice squad when Siliga was placed on IR, and almost immediately Walker found Wilfork to be a willing mentor. As Walker was still feeling his way around his new environment, it was Wilfork who took him aside to go over plays in the Patriots playbook.
The 24-year-old, 6-foot-1, 325-pounder made his presence felt for the first time on Sunday night as he made a tackle for a loss and got one pressure on Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.

"Casey's worked hard," Belichick said. "He's been here and tried to learn what to do. Spends a lot of time with [defensive line coach] Brendan [Daly] and some of our veteran players. Vince has spent a lot of time with him as well. He's working at it. We'll just hopefully build on last week."

With Wilfork showing him the way, Walker's guaranteed to be getting the right advice.

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