Vince Wilfork remembers the sense of awe he felt walking into a championship locker room when he was a Patriots [team stats] rookie in 2004. He also remembers how the veterans on the team, many of whom already had two Super Bowl rings in the vault, showed him the way to getting his first.
Back then, so many players on the defense knew what it took: Richard Seymour [stats], Tedy Bruschi [stats], Roman Phifer, Ty Law, Rodney Harrison [stats].
Eight years later, there’s just Big Vince. He’s the only ring-bearer on defense left to spread the word about what it’s going to take to win the next one.
‘‘We used to talk about how to play at a championship level. And there’s not a lot of guys in that locker room right now that can relate,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘But the guys who’ve been in the situations before (he and Tom Brady [stats] are the only remaining players with Patriots championship rings) know what it takes to win. We try to relate that to everyone. That’s one thing we do ‘‘
So what does the defense need to get to the promised land? What’s missing?
The not-so-old sage summed up part of the formula with one word: trust.
Wilfork, 30, said a defense needs to be able to play together as a unit. And to do that, each player has to trust in the guy next to him to do his job. The defenses on those championship teams played well together because the players had such trust and confidence in each other to be where they were supposed to be and make the play.
‘‘You have to work hard and have trust,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘That’s one thing you can never get tired of, trust in one another, and the will to get better.’’
The need for consistency was also drilled into Wilfork.
‘‘There’s no magic wand. You just have to be able to be consistent day in and day out. The more consistent you are, the better you’ll be. And that’s what we try to do,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, the game has changed so much since ’04. But being able to play consistent football and great defense as a team, that’s what you need to win.’’
Having all 11 players in sync with each other — that’s the ticket, according to Wilfork.
‘‘We have to be able to understand on the back end what we’re doing up front, and up front, what we’re doing on the back end. And I think that’s one thing we’ve been getting better at. In meetings, we try to talk to one another,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘I say, ‘Hey guys, when you jam, this is what’s going to happen.’ You play the plays out, so you can see (that) when you can hold each other accountable, it makes you a better defense, it makes you a better team.
‘‘So, as long as we work together and we’re consistent as a defense. I think this defense can be a pretty good defense. If we’re not, we’ll be in trouble.’’
Wilfork indicated players come to him for advice. He said he spends a lot of time in the meeting rooms, trying to help guys figure out how best to react on certain plays by an offense.
‘‘They want to learn,” he said. “It’s not like I have to go to them. They come to me and want to learn. That lets me know they pay attention and want to get the concept of what we do around here. That’s a positive. Hopefully it stays like that. Hopefully we keep learning and we grow as a team. That’s the main thing.’’
Wilfork also doesn’t anticipate any problems in the room that might derail a championship run.
‘‘I’m telling you what — you can’t ask for any better guys than this. They work hard, they ask questions, they play good football,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘If they’re doing something wrong, they’ll ask questions. They’ll take criticism and turn it into a positive. We don’t have no problems. That comes from the head man all the way down.’’