Defensive linemen are supposed to be large, hulking figures. Size, bulk and girth are desired traits. If you walk into a big-and-tall store and need something less than triple-XL, don’t bother being a nose tackle.
Vince Wilfork never has had a problem in that regard. He’s always made the grade. He’s always been a beast in the trenches.
At 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, he has an ideal body type to play the nose. That frame also works well at tackle or end. And after his two athletic interceptions last year, some have even joked the imposing lineman could play cornerback.
Wilfork moves incredibly well for a big man. He’s nimble, but he also works to keep himself in great shape. Two games into his ninth NFL season, Wilfork feels as good as he ever has, and he’s playing as well as ever as the anchor of the Patriots [team stats] defense. He also looks trimmer, especially around the midsection, thanks to some dedication in the offseason.
‘‘This year, I had a main focus of concentrating on my core,’’ Wilfork said Monday. ‘‘I’m not saying I have a six-pack or anything, but I’m pretty satisfied and pretty happy how it’s gone. And while my weight hasn’t changed, it’s shifted. I worked very hard on it. I don’t want to boast about or make a big deal out of it, but I worked hard on it through the offseason.’’
Wilfork started to change his body shape with some old-fashioned training in the offseason. He didn’t just lift weights, instead choosing to work the muscles deep within the abs and back in a variety of ways.
‘‘Sometimes I’d chop trees. Sometimes I’d pull logs. I do all types of yard stuff,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘But in the grand scheme of things, I’m actually building muscles.’’
He also changed his diet. For the first time, he’s working with a sports nutritionist, Ted Harper, who was hired by the Patriots this year.
All of Wilfork’s meals are scaled and portioned. He cooks them himself, getting just the right amount of protein and nutrients. He even includes a mystery food that is part of his daily regimen but cannot be divulged.
“I’m not going to give that out,’’ he said.
Wilfork has learned a great deal from Harper, who has helped the lineman identify the proper foods to eat and in what combination.
‘‘Ted’s very smart when it comes to that stuff,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘’With the mixture of both of us putting our heads together, just being able to learn how different things affect your body, what you can eat, when you can eat it, how you eat it, what it does to your body. It’s just being educated. He’s done a good job with me through training camp.’’
Wilfork said he hasn’t noticed a difference in his endurance or quickness, but others might disagree. On Sunday, he looked like he was shot out of a cannon in the fourth quarter, pouncing on a Cardinals fumble forced by Brandon Spikes which gave the Pats another chance to pull out a victory.
Still, the soon-to-be 31-year-old refuses to say he’s trying to stay ahead of all the young talent on the Patriots defense.
‘‘The biggest difference is that my shirts fit a lot better,’’ Wilfork said with a laugh. ‘‘But on the field, I don’t think it’s changed much, but some people may disagree. Nobody knows my body better than me. I’ve always been in great shape my whole career (including) college, high school. I’ve always been in good shape to play football. But the weight shift, you can say from a look standpoint, it’s noticeable.’’
For a lineman, it’s really a delicate balance. You don’t want to be too heavy, leaving yourself unable to move, and you don’t want to be so light that you get pushed around or run over. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whom the Pats will see Sunday night, dropped about 20 pounds so he could better keep up with tight ends in coverage.
Wilfork doesn’t have to worry about coverage, but in his case, weight and a healthy diet do have an even greater meaning. His father, David, died of kidney failure at 48 after suffering from diabetes.
‘‘That runs deeply in African-Americans in general, and a lot more cultures,’’ said Wilfork, whose foundation raises money for diabetes research. ‘‘But my family history, that’s always a topic of discussion between my wife and I. Knock on wood, I’ve been healthy. . . . I haven’t been diagnosed. I’m a big, healthy man. That’s how I want to be. A lot of people have opinions on what I need to do. Trust me, I have goals every year of what I want to accomplish. I’m pretty healthy to be a big guy.’’
Wilfork avoids fried food and will continue to try to maintain a healthy weight. He has even more goals in mind for the upcoming year.
‘‘I think one of the good things for him, he doesn’t eat bad. Some of the things that make people big — snacks, cookies, cakes, chocolate, pies, fried chicken — he doesn’t eat any of it. That really plays a part in his overall health,’’ said Wilfork’s wife, Bianca. ‘‘He’s pretty healthy. Most of the time when you see people who are big, they’re slow and unhealthy and have a lot of underlying problems, and he doesn’t. If there’s one thing he could change about himself, it’s his core, and he’s working on that. I think he’s off to a really good start.’’
Last year, when the Pats switched to a 4-3 scheme, Wilfork played the most downs of anyone on defense. He was in the trenches for 977 snaps, a huge number for a lineman.
Whether it’s endurance, looks or staying healthy, Wilfork has hit his goal.
‘‘I know people say the older you are, the harder it gets. But to me, every year I go into, I go in with a plan of things I want to accomplish. This offseason was the same,’’ Wilfork said. ‘‘I’m not saying you don’t have to be lighter when you get older, because some people might have to. But how I look at it, each year if I accomplish what I want to accomplish in the offseason, I have a good foundation for going into a season and doing what I want to do.
“I believe if you set goals, and you accomplish those goals, you put yourself in a good situation.’’
The results speak for themselves.Vince’s three steps to a new body
Vince Wilfork doesn’t like to give away all of his trade secrets. The four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman doesn’t like to let everyone in on how he’s able to keep himself in the kind of shape that allows him to play practically every snap on defense.
But, Wilfork was willing to share three key elements that have allowed him to reshape his body this season and have him both looking better, and feeling better. In his own words, he explained each element to his transformation in detail.
1. Improving his core:
‘‘My weight is the same as it’s always been. I just tried to move it around, shift it around. I did a lot of core work this offseason when I was home in my ranch in Florida. In the offseason, I don’t lift weights. My main goal is to be in condition for camp. So I do a lot of running. And I do a lot of old-fashioned stuff. Sometimes I chop trees. Sometimes I pull logs. I do all types of yard stuff. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m actually building muscles.’’
2. Portion size:
‘‘That’s the key. I’ve been eating good stuff, but I just didn’t put it together the right way, I didn’t put the right components together to make a good meal. Now that I have the education behind me on how to put a meal together, it’s been very beneficial. There’s no calorie counting. It’s more what foods you need, and how your plate needs to look. I’m not a big fried guy. I’m not saying every now and then I won’t fry some pork chops or fried chicken. I’d be lying if I said I don’t do that. But I rarely eat fried foods. I’m not a big steak guy. I’m more of a chicken guy. My food is baked. And, as I said, it all comes together with the right balance of proteins, carbs, or whatever in a portioned meal.’’
‘‘Instead of pounding on my joints and being sore (with weight lifting), I’m in the water, and I’m swimming. I think that’s a big, big part of my success. I do it every day. I do underwater laps. I go down and back for a lap. Six seconds after that, I’m back up under. So I’m strengthening up my lungs. It’s tough, but at the same time, I feel a difference in doing it. Randy Moss put me on it, 2-3 years ago. I have to credit Randy for that.’’