Siliga carves a role with help of many mentors

Siliga carves a role with help of many mentors
December 13, 2013, 11:45 am
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FOXBORO -- Sealver Siliga admitted it was difficult. In a year, he spent time on three different teams, including two practice squads, without playing in a single regular-season NFL game.

"I'm not gonna lie," Siliga said. "It's hard. Especially when you're watching everybody else. Especially on game days. You're sitting there, seeing everybody get hyped up that's playing in the game. Then you start to miss the feeling of being sore, just everything about being on the field. It does get hard. But you gotta take it one step at a time, one day at a time, and hope for the best."

After signing with the Patriots in late October and spending about a month on the practice squad, Siliga seems to have carved himself a role on the team's battered defensive line. The 6-foot-2, 325-pound defensive tackle was in the starting lineup last week against the Cleveland Browns and played in 54 of 76 defensive snaps, chipping in with six assisted tackles.

Against the Texans in Week 13, Siliga got his first taste of game action since Dec. 2 of last year when he was with the Broncos, playing limited time in New England's 3-4 sets.

"I feel like I'm getting back into it," Siliga said. "Throughout the whole game I was just trying to find the game groove again. But, you know, for the most part I'm back into it. Just being more comfortable out there. Just feeling at ease while you're out there, while you're moving 100 mph at the same time.

"In practice you can only do so much, but when it's game time, bullets are live and people are flying everywhere and basically you gotta react on the go."

Siliga spent all of last season with the Broncos before being traded to and subsequently released by the Seahawks earlier this season. It's taken time to pick up a new system in New England and make an impression on his Patriots coaches, but he appears to have earned their trust as the latest young addition to the team's defensive line.

Siliga, in his third year out of Utah, is a bigger player than rookie defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, making him more of a traditional nose who can line up directly over opposing centers and eat up space on inside runs -- something against which the Patriots have struggled since losing both Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly to season-ending injuries.

Though their roles may be different at times, Sopoaga said that all of New England's young tackles are leaning on each other to help make up for the veteran losses on the line.

"We're all taking a step at the same time and basically counting on each other to pick up the slack," Siliga said. "It's hard to replace Wilfork and [Kelly], but we can do is play the best we can and pick up for them. It's unfortunate that we lost those two great defensive linemen this year but the team's not gonna give us any slack just because they're not playing. We gotta pick it up because teams are going to attack us even harder."

Siliga has been taught to handle blocks differently with the Patriots, and he said it has been difficult to erase what he learned for two years in Denver. But Bill Belichick said earlier this week that Siliga is catching on quickly.

"I think he’s worked hard in practice picking up a little bit of a new system, doing things a little bit differently than the way he’s been doing them," Belichick said. "[He] worked hard on his conditioning and he had an opportunity to play here a little bit the last couple weeks, more the last week against Cleveland.

"I think he’s done some positive things. He’s got a long way to go and certainly a lot of room for improvement, but I thought the things he was asked to do, I thought he tried to do them and had some production, was effective at times doing them. Again, I think he’s another guy that’s headed in the right direction, but he’s only been with us half the year. We’ll see how it goes."

When Siliga arrived in New England, he had a friend already planted in the Patriots locker room: fellow defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga. As a rookie, when Siliga spent 2011 training camp with the San Francisco 49ers, Sopoaga was there and took him under his wing.

Siliga explained that he's received help from a handful of veterans on the Patriots defensive line, including Sopoaga, since he's been in town.

"I'm basically leaning on these older guys that have been in the game a long time," he said. "Guys like Rob [Ninkovich] and Isaac and Andre [Carter]. I'm basically just asking questions when I see something, just going off of what they tell me because they've seen it all and they're so used to it."

Those veterans, including Wilfork and Kelly, who have been present at Patriots facilities while recovering from their injuries, have showed Siliga more than just on-the-field techniques.

"I'm watching the way they go about things," Siliga said. "They're here an hour early, getting in the ice tub and then they're here an hour after, either watching extra film, or they're taking care of their bodies. I'm just from watching these older cats go and picking it up from there."

Siliga also counts former Patriot Ty Warren among his tutors. As teammates in Denver, Warren guided Siliga through last season's training camp as Siliga was still adapting to a professional workload.

"He was a big mentor to me," Siliga said. "He's the one who really taught me about getting into the weight room and doing the extra work even though your body wants to be lazy.

"With him, the way he would go throughout two-a-days last year, when stuff started getting hard, he was a big impact on me because he'd always help me if I felt lazy. He'd make sure I focus even more on my craft. He was a big, big help for me last year."

Siliga has made an effort to put into action the lessons he has learned from the veterans around him. He knows how much he can benefit from players like Wilfork, Kelly, Ninkovich and Sopoaga, and he doesn't plan on taking the experience for granted.

"I just have lines of mentors that I can learn from," he said. "I've been real lucky. Whenever they say something, I write everything down. Sometimes I won't understand it until I read it half an hour later when I'm by myself. But I'll watch film and read, and I'll go over it and see what they're seeing."

That diligence helped take him from a practice squad player to a starter last week for the Patriots.

"I learned in my first year," Siliga said, "when I was on practice squad in Denver for most of the season, Ty Warren told me, and then Isaac here, they both basically told me, 'Being on practice squad doesn't mean you'll be there forever.' "