By Tom E. Curran
FOXBORO - The end result for the New England Patriots, any one of 30 teams would have happily traded for. Super Bowl participants.
That said, the route to an AFC Championship and Indianapolis was pockmarked by defensive struggles. That the Patriots ultimately overcame their defensive lapses is a tribute to their resourcefulness.
That there were troubles, said nose tackle Vince Wilfork, can be attributed to their youth.
"Being a young defense last year, I think with the lockout and all of that, I think we struggled at certain points with some of the things that we did," Wilfork said Thursday after a Patriots OTA workout. "Hopefully it can be better this year. I think the OTAs are good for us and are definitely good for a younger team. Weve got a younger defense and Im not saying were too young, but at the same time it helps to be able to get together and get the little things out of the way that can make a big, big difference down in the season."
The Patriots are in the bricklaying stage of the program. Learning things now will let them hit the ground faster in July when training camp begins.
"With OTAs were trying and every day we put something different in and every day guys are coming in to work," Wilfork explained. "Thats what its going to take. You have to strive to get better and thats where Im at right now striving to get better and hopefully my teammates are doing the same thing."
One of the things that made the Patriots' defenses of last decade so solid was their shared time together. Once players know what they'll do on a play and can innately sense what teammates will do, they can play faster and take more chances.
"You had guys that played this game for a long time, had been in this system for a long time and they just knew how to play," Wilfork explained. "When youre around something for so long you adapt, you can start doing some different things and move around differently because you know it so well."
And, Wilfork re-emphasized, this is the time that knowledge gets ingrained.
"Being able to get turnovers defensively, get off the field on third down and create negative plays, all of those things are goals that we want to achieve throughout the year," he said. "The first step to all of that is now. Getting guys in here for OTAs, getting familiar with one another, seeing how each other plays and getting the system down and just working on things that you need work on. Thats what were doing now and hopefully that can pay off for us."