If the glum nature of Patriots fans didn’t tip people off that New England is going to miss Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady took care of it Monday evening.
Brady chatted with Jim Gray for a radio interview during halftime of Monday night’s game between the Saints and the Dolphins, and he admitted that the loss of Wilfork was a big blow.
“Well, to say we’ll miss him is an understatement,” Brady said, as transcribed by WEEI.com. “His presence in the locker room and on the field is really unmatched, so it will be a team effort. I know coach [Bill] Belichick said there’s no Vince Wilforks on the street corner waiting to sign with the Patriots, which is the truth, but we’re going to have to find a way to — in a group effort — replace such a valuable player. And he’ll be around, his spirit, his leadership. He’ll still have a big impact on our team. But he’s been a great player for a long time, and everyone’s disappointed about his injury.”
Wilfork, 31, has been the unquestioned leader on the Patriots’ defense for some time, holding together a unit that struggled as it rebuilt with a young core. With New England since 2004, the defensive lineman has been a reliable force at nose tackle, where he often did the work of more than one player. Aside from his play, he was also known to push for the best out of his teammates and keep the team upbeat with his personality.
“Initially there’s a blow to the team morale in that you wonder who’s going to fill in that spot and who’s going to take the void of such a great player,” Brady said. “But then as soon as you get into the week, you start thinking about your job, how much you need to do and what the coaches are asking you, and then you really leave it to coach to think of the things that he can do now to help replace a guy like Vince as well as personnel. So injuries are really a part of the game, and I think we’ve learned over the years that there’s not one player that makes the team. Certainly losing a guy like Vince doesn’t help our team in any way, but we’re going to have to find somebody to go in there and do the job of that nose tackle position and do it to the level that they’re capable of. It’s a team sport, so the rest of the team has to pick up the pieces.”
For now, that work will likely be picked up by Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. While there’s been talk that the Patriots will try to bring in some fresh players, there aren’t many options out there, and especially not of Wilfork’s caliber.
Brady said Wilfork knew pretty much the minute he came off the field Sunday that the injury was bad.
“I know that Vince never really goes down and stays on the ground, so when he came over to the sideline and I went over and tapped him on the shoulder to ask him how he felt and he just kind of nodded his head which, I knew at that point that it wasn’t a minor injury,” Brady said. “So he’s as tough as they come. He’s been durable, consistent. Like I said, his leadership and his ability to motivate the other players on the defensive side of the ball has been one of the best I’ve ever seen. So we’ll miss him, we’ll miss him for the rest of the year, but I know he’ll come back next year strong and as determined as ever.”
Brady also talked about tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is still working his way back from offseason back and arm surgeries. While there have been reports that Gronkowski is ready to play, he’s been held out of games so far this season. Brady said Gronkowski has been working hard but didn’t shed any light on his status.
The Patriots have dealt with injuries across the board this season, especially in the receiving game, but Wilfork’s is the first big one on defense.