FOXBORO, Mass — Vince Wilfork handled question after question about Aaron Hernandez like a true professional — not that anyone would expect anything different from the defensive tackle in his 10th season with the Patriots.
When he said he felt sad and disappointed about the situation, you could feel that he truly meant those words. He stressed that Odin Lloyd‘s death and the investigation surrounding it is “real life” and “more than football.”
But as solemn as Wilfork was as he spoke to the media for 15 minutes on the team’s practice field, you could tell the 325-pounder just wanted to get back to his job: foootball. The defensive lineman said as much when asked how he felt about putting the helmet and pads on after such a tumultuous offseason.
“That?s funny because every year you?ve been away from football for so long that you do get eager to put on football pads and helmets,” Wilfork said. “But this year it?s like, it can?t come any sooner. But you have to let everything take its course — control what you?re gonna control and that?s playing football, getting better as a team. That started today. Hopefully we’ll get better from here on out.”
Most of the starters on defense are returning from last year, outside of Wilfork’s immediate group. The interior linemen saw a huge overhaul with Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick and Myron Pryor gone and Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano, Cory Grissom, Armond Armstead and Anthony Rashad White taking their place. When asked how the new players are adapting, Wilfork elected to take a wait and see approach.
“We?ll find that out sooner than later. I?ll tell you that. Tomorrow we get after it and I?m very excited,” Wilfork said. “Every year I?m excited and this is another year I?m excited to get back going with the new teammates I have, old teammates we have. Just the things that we do. Just to see ourselves as a team. Line up and run through some plays. It?s not going to be all pretty. It?s not going to be all perfect. Just to have an opportunity to do it, I?m very excited about the season.”
The Patriots have had plenty of success ever since Tom Brady took over at quarterback. The team has only missed the playoffs once since Wilfork was drafted in 2004, and that was the season Matt Cassel was playing quarterback. Wilfork said the team can’t just rest on its laurels, though. They have to continue to work hard and strive to get better. He said this season may be even more challenging than normal.
“I think everybody that we have here, they can help us win. But we have to do the work,” Wilfork said. “We can?t just come out here and expect to get better by not doing anything. We have to come out here and work our tails off. Every year we do it. So it shouldn?t be any different this year. We?re probably just going to have to work a little harder and lean on one another more. Support one another more.”
The Patriots will have plenty of distractions this season, but trying to avoid those may just force them to be more dedicated to their getaway: football. If the entire team can take on their defensive captain’s mindset to avoid the noise by burying their face in a playbook or spending more time in the weight room, the team should have no problem putting together another playoff campaign.