While discussing Vince Wilfork‘s emergence as an every-down player, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick cited a number of examples to drive home the points of his athleticism. Most recently, Belichick pointed toward Monday’s practice when Wilfork was running sprints during the offense’s portion of the session.
“He’s in good condition,” Belichick said. “He’s running sprints back and forth across the field working on his conditioning. There’s a week to go in the season, and I think that’s indicative of his competitiveness, his desire to be good, to consistently be good week after week the entire season.”
Wilfork didn’t earn extensive reps as a three-down player until 2010, when the Patriots were ravaged by injuries on the defensive line. Basically out of necessity, Belichick had to give his co-captain more responsibility, and Wilfork has taken it and made himself a better player.
There’s been no greater example than the AFC Championship, when Wilfork started hot and then finished strong, too. He essentially singlehandedly ended the Ravens’ second-to-last offensive drive when he dropped running back Ray Rice for a three-yard loss on third down to push Baltimore out of field-goal range. And on fourth down, Wilfork’s pressure up the middle forced quarterback Joe Flacco to unload the ball to nowhere.
As Belichick pointed out, Wilfork was up around the range of 60 plays at that point in the game.
“This year, he really takes a lot of pride on not coming off the field, which I love in a defensive lineman,” Belichick said. “I love that they want to be out there on every play and not looking to come out.”
Wilfork might have played the best game of his career last week against the Ravens, and it speaks to his evolution as an every-down player, which is something of a rare commodity nowadays. He’s also been doing it at different positions, as the majority of his snaps against the Ravens came over the guard, while he also took some reps over the center.
Each position presents a different challenge, but Belichick has been able to use Wilfork in more spots because of his athleticism and conditioning. It’s all come hand in hand, and it’s a major reason why Wilfork is still improving, even in his eighth season.
“Wherever I’m at, I want to play the best that I can play,” Wilfork said. “If that’s playing over the center, over guards, over tight ends, whoever it may be. I want to be the best I can be. If you approach every game like that, you’ll be all right.”
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