Vellano ready to help fill void left by Wilfork

Vellano ready to help fill void left by Wilfork
October 3, 2013, 4:45 pm
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FOXBORO -- When Vince Wilfork hobbled off the field Sunday night with a torn Achilles, undrafted rookie Joe Vellano was tapped as his immediate replacement.

No pressure.

Vellano was an undrafted rookie, 24 years old, playing in just his fourth NFL game. As a kid from Rexford, NY -- about 30 miles from the Vermont state line -- he watched Wilfork dominate opposing offenses on television and admired him from afar.

"He's one of the smartest guys to play the position and the best," Vellano said. "He really is, day in, day out, year in, year out, one of the best. The stuff that he does on the field, and watching film on him, he plays the blocks the best way you can. You just try to learn from him."

Vellano finished the game with three tackles and his first-career sack in a season-high 33 snaps. Given the Patriots relative lack of depth on the defensive line -- Tommy Kelly and Chris Jones are the only two true defensive tackles on the roster aside from Vellano -- the young defensive lineman will be expected to help fill the sizable void left by his veteran teammate.

"Everyone has to pick up the slack a little bit more," Vellano said. "That's the biggest thing on defense. If you've got a good vibe with the other guys, everyone picks each other up and everybody's not gonna be perfect on every play so you just gotta rally to the ball. I think the most important thing is you've gotta gain the trust of the guys you're playing with. You gotta feel comfortable out there with them."

Since Wilfork was placed on injured reserve Thursday, the on-the-field tutoring sessions that Vellano so enjoyed are over for this season. But from the time players reported to training camp, Vellano absorbed as much as possible from the man he calls "the best."

"He thinks fast but he plays slow, which is very hard to do," Vellano said. "He understands what's coming at him, but he plays it the right way, has good footwork and good hands. The stuff he does takes a long time to get good at. He understands the scheme coming at him and he knows how to defeat it."

Vellano explained that he's prepared to see an up-tick in snaps with Wilfork out.

"You go into every week, you prepare as best you can like you're going to play," he said. "We do a great job here and everybody's getting coached up for every situation. You just go out there and make the best of it. You never know what's going to happen. That's the downside of football. Freaky things happen. You just gotta rally. Somebody's gotta pick up the slack obviously when a big time guy goes down, which is the sad thing about football. But our team did a great job. Guys stepped and played hard. Everybody's picked up the slack."

The middle of the Patriots defensive line has been hallowed ground for a decade, and Vellano knows it. All he can do now is continue to show his teammates and coaches that he's earned the right to occupy it.

"Gotta prove it everyday," he said.