CHANDLER, Ariz. — Sealver Siliga was lost 15 months ago.
The New England Patriots defensive tackle had just been released from the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad, and he was sitting at home wondering what was next. Some players never get another chance after being released, let alone being released from a practice squad.
“There was a bunch of stuff that ran through my head,” Siliga said Thursday at the team hotel. “I’d be lying if I said that didn’t run through my head. It was hard. I knew that if I got one more shot, then I would actually take over and take advantage of it.”
He got that shot a torturous two weeks after being cut the Seahawks, when the Patriots signed him to their practice squad. He toiled on the scout team for a month before being activated to the Patriots’ active roster, where he immediately impressed, despite an uphill battle to learn the playbook.
“It’s kind of funny. Half the time, whenever I asked him a question or told him, ‘This is what we’re gonna do, this is why,’ sometimes he would forget what technique he’d be playing because he was used to Denver or wherever he was at before,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “He did a great job when he came in, and he understood what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. He played great for us last year, and since he’s been back, he’s been playing great for us this year.”
Siliga went from being cut off of a practice squad to being a Super Bowl starter in just over a year. That’s an insane trajectory, especially for a player who came into the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent and bounced around teams for three seasons.
As the Patriots prepare for the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, it’s not lost on Siliga that he’s facing off a team that nearly ended his career.
“There’s always emotions when I’m going against teams that passed on me,” Siliga said. “I’m excited.
“I think getting cut made me realize — but the Seahawks actually helped me too. My little short stint over there, even though it wasn’t very long, I still learned some stuff from them.”
Siliga is lucky he caught on with the Patriots for many reasons, but from listening to the 325-pound nose tackle, it’s obvious why his career took off once he arrived in New England. He was thrown into the fire with starters Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly on injured reserve and was forced to catch on quickly. Siliga called it “a challenge I was willing to accept.”
“It’s basically made me into who I am today,” Siliga said. “From last year to this year, it’s two separate people.
“They just made me into an NFL player. Understanding how to play, understanding how to keep my poise, understanding when I have a job, I actually have to go out there and do the job — and no excuses, as well.”
Siliga spent the 2013 season learning from fellow 325-pounder Wilfork, who took on more of a coaching role while sitting out with a torn Achilles tendon. Now that Siliga and Wilfork are playing next to each other — forming one of the NFL’s biggest defensive fronts with another 325-pounder, Alan Branch — Siliga just doesn’t want to disappoint his veteran teammate.
“He makes you play at a high level all the time,” Siliga said. “If I don’t play at a high level, I don’t want to look at him in the face and be like, ‘I’m sorry, that was my fault.’ That’s the biggest thing I don’t want to do, is look at my teammate and say there was a touchdown through my gap or I got blown off the ball. To look at them and be like, ‘I’m sorry. That was my fault.'”
Based on Wilfork’s response, Siliga has impressed him plenty since signing with the Patriots.
“He’s grown a lot,” Wilfork said. “He’s every bit of what we needed. He stepped in, he picked up the playbook, he’s tough, he’s physical, he’s smart. Just to see him get more confidence, I think when you watch somebody grow, the first thing that you have to notice is their comfort level and confidence that they have in themselves. I think over time, you start to see that. They open up a little bit, start looking a little bit better. It’s just one of those things from an athlete, you can see, and you can tell.
“That’s what I see when I look at him. He’s one of those guys where when he first came, he didn’t talk much. Now he’s one of the biggest loudmouths in the locker room. I’m just kidding, but he worked his tail off. He’s been doing it for two years for us, and he’s made us a lot better.”
Siliga, Wilfork and Branch form the nucleus of the Patriots’ run-stuffing defense. With nearly 1,000 pounds of listed weight, running through those three defenders was a challenge for opposing teams, who averaged just 79 yards per game in the second half of the season.
Siliga is prepared for the Super Bowl however, after going through a trial run last season.
“It set me up for when we made this playoff run this year. I was more calm,” Siliga said. “Last year was the pressure of, ‘I have to make sure I don’t mess up, I gotta play good because I have to make sure I get even more playing time.’ This year is more of, ‘I know I can play, now it’s just making sure I keep executing at a high level.'”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images