Wilfork: Stopping the run a start for Patriots

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Wilfork: Stopping the run a start for Patriots

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff ReporterFollow @mary_paoletti
OAKLAND -- Vince Wilfork wants you to know something.

"We owned the running game," he said."We definitely handled the running game."

The Patriots tackle took the podium after New England's 31-19 win in Oakland's Black Hole with that statement in mind. Which is funny, because the first thing he was asked about was his fourth-quarter interception.

Yes, he had another one.

And yes, everyone wanted to joke with the 350-pounder about how his two 2011 (and career) picks is the second highest tally on the team. The writers couldn't resist noting how Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty has zero. But Wilfork didn't have much to add.

"I can't remember exactly what I did," he said. "I'll have to go back and watch the play. But one thing with a lot of quarterbacks is, when it comes to the passing game, they want to go deep and then try to come back to security; it's check downs or a cross or whatever it may be. I was just happy to be at the right place at the right time."

There was something else on his mind.

"Most important thing is we got the 'W'," he added."It wouldn't have meant nothing if we didn't get the 'W.' I think it was a good team win. This whole week we challenged each other. Bill Belichick challenged us, we challenged each other. We were very competitive in practice; this was one of the best weeks in practice we had. Not a lot of mental errors in practice. We had a good week of preparation. "

Though he didn't mention Buffalo, it was easy to connect the dots. It was, after all, the defense that bore the brunt of the Patriots' first loss.

The Pats squandered a 21-0 lead last week on the way to a 34-31 Bills win. Wilfork, a defensive captain, skipped discussing it; he bombed out of the locker room before the media could even enter. Postgame analysis noticed this, and quickly sniffed out New England's league-worst total defense: 468.7 yards surrendered on average.

And who sat on the horizon but Darren McFadden and the rush-happy Raiders.

After the Buffalo loss it was deemed inevitable that McFadden, the NFL's leading ground gobbler with 393 yards on 61 carries, would do major damage to New England's leaky 'D'. By whom? Plenty of people, according to Wilfork.

"We went out and played ball," Wilfork said."The plays we did give up against the Raiders were just miscommunications and missed tackles, missed assignments. We gave up two running plays and that was, what, 60-70 yards of the running game. But other than that, I think we owned the running game. I think a lot of people challenged us, basically saying we couldn't stop the running game and all that . . .Well, you take those two plays away, I think we handled them pretty good."

Unfortunately, you can't take plays out of the game log. Belichick saw McFadden rip off a 41-yard gain in the second quarter. One drive later he also caught Jacoby Ford ringing up 30 more on a run that put Oakland on New England's 6.

Butthe defense was good enough.

Eight of Oakland's 11 touchdowns were scored on the ground in Weeks 1 through 3. The Patriots knew they had to take the run away.The Raiders, especially, knew the Patriots would try to take the run away. So they tried to adjust. The season to date, quarterback Jason Campbell had tried just 82 throws and completed passes for 571 yards. On Sunday he had 39 passing attempts for 344 yards passing.

Campbell ended up with one touchdown throw and two picks.

"Every week you have to train and every week it's something different," Wilfork said. "You going from a spread team to a power running team, to a team that do both, to a play action team. This week we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We knew exactly what the Raiders wanted to do; they wanted to run the ball. We were challenged, we were challenged. Defensively, we took it personally.

"And I'm glad. I'm glad it happened today because we came to Oakland who is riding high, won a couple ball games, playing some good football. We were on the road. One of the great traditions in history is to come to Oakland and play the Raiders. We had everything against us. Our backs were against the wall, but you know what? Everyone stayed focused. This team stayed focused, we handled what we needed to handle and we're walking away with a 'W'."

A 'W' with a footnote.

Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered a left MCL injury in the second quarter. Though his season isn't over, Mayo will be sidelined for an extended period -- the last thing this decimated New England defense needs. Linemen Albert Haynesworth and Mike Wright missed another game this week and cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Ras-I Dowling were also unavailable because of injury.

They're not only inconsistent in play but limited in personnel.

Wilfork remains stubbornly optimistic.

"This team is tough. This is a tough, tough, tough bunch. They take coaching well, they take criticisms well and they're hard workers. Anything that they'll put on our plate, they try their best to do. I mean, they work so hard. And you can't ask for anything better than that. No complaining -- people just come to work, they put their hard hat on.

"Whatever it may be that day. Like I said, Bill always challenges us. This week Bill challenged us to just play better football and don't give away games. And we did. We came out, we played well. Going into the fourth quarter we felt very confident with what we were doing. Very confident. I don't care if we were down or up; I think we felt comfortable coming into this week."

He was far removed from the silent, sullen Week 3 Wilfork. Not surprising when it's all about the 'W' -- when bend-don't-break is all you need. That philosophy sufficed for 14-2 last year. The playoffs? That was a different story. Ask the Jets.And you know Wilfork remembers losing in the first round of 2010's postseason. He's not entirely satisfied right now -- not even after stopping McFadden and the Raiders' run.

Quite the contrary.

"We have to keep getting better," he said. "It's not the end of the road. 3-1, that's definitely not where we want to be. We have to keep growing. By far, we're not playing the type of football we're capable of playing. By far. We've just got to keep grinding each week, get better each week, keep moving forward each week. Guys are gaining confidence. Guys stepped up today that we were depending on. And you've got to make plays when it counts. That's what we did tonight."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

Patriots LB Ellis 'all in' on football before giving medical school a shot

FOXBORO -- When a new player arrives to the Patriots, there's a familiar refrain that's recited from behind the podium at Gillette Stadium: "Football is important to him."

Whether the subject is a rookie or an established veteran, those five words can serve as Bill Belichick's stamp of approval. It means the player cares. It means the player is willing to put in time.

Belichick hasn't gone on the record on any of the members of this year's class of undrafted free agents just yet, but linebacker Brooks Ellis seems to fall into that category of players to whom football is important.

If it wasn't, he would probably be putting all of his energy into getting accepted into medical school right now.  

Ellis was a two-year captain at Arkansas and one of 12 finalists for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the "Academic Heisman." He maintained a 3.82 grade point average as a pre-professional exercise science major with a minor in biology, he was the first two-time Academic All-American in program history, and he was the SEC's Scholar-Athlete of the year for 2016.

All that is to say, Ellis had options upon graduation.

Football won out. He agreed to a deal with the Patriots soon after the draft, and he's spent the better part of the last month trying to learn defensive terminology and special-teams techniques. 

But eventually Ellis hopes to be an orthopedic surgeon, and later this summer he'll submit his applications to medical schools in order to kick-start that process for whenever it's time to pursue his next plan full-throttle.

"I'm putting my all into this right now," Ellis said, wearing Patriots gear while standing on the Gillette Stadium turf last week. "But when I get some spare time, I'm finishing applications, and then when I get back in July I'm sending those in.

"If I get accepted somewhere, I'm going to tell them I need to defer until I know for sure what the football situation is going to be. So I'm all in on football, and just in case, I'm going to have that ready to go when I get out of it."

If all goes well for Ellis this spring and summer, it could be a while before he's taking the Hippocratic Oath. The Patriots have a long history of giving worthy undrafted players a shot at the 53-man roster, and Ellis plays one of the few positions on New England's loaded roster that might have room for a newcomer or two.

On paper, he certainly looks like their type.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was his team's leading tackler for two seasons. He played all three linebacker positions in Arkansas' defense -- strong-side, middle and weak-side -- and he started 31 consecutive games to finish his career. Ellis also has extensive special teams experience, and he recorded one of the quickest three-cone drills among linebackers at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.

That he learned under Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema can't hurt his chances, either.

Bielema began his coaching career at Iowa under former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz, and Belichick has dipped into Bielema's programs at Wisconsin and Arkansas several times over the course of the last few seasons. Running back James White, defensive end Trey Flowers and former tight end AJ Derby all played for Bielema, and Ellis joins fellow Arkansas rookies Deatrich Wise (fourth-round pick) and Cody Hollister (undrafted) on this year's squad.  

"He came in, started about halfway through his true freshman year -- we weren't a really good football team, we were 3-9 -- threw him in the middle of it, didn't bat an eye, and he got better every game," Bielema said of Ellis on Quick Slants the Podcast. "Sophomore year, [he] really began to mature, develop. He's another guy that the potential -- because we never redshirted him -- to grow in this year is going to be huge . . .

"He's just truly very, very intelligent, compassionate. And the value that he brings is he could be an unbelievable role player. I'm not saying he's going to be a four-time All-Pro or anything like that, but he'll be reliable, dependable, in every phase of the game."

Robb Smith, Arkansas defensive coordinator from 2014-16, believes Ellis landed in the perfect spot. Prior to his time at Arkansas, he worked under Greg Schiano at Rutgers, where he coached Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, former Patriots corner Logan Ryan, Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safeties coach Steve Belichick.

"He's one of those guys that's not only going to know his job, but what the other 10 guys around him are supposed to do," Smith said of Ellis. "He'll be able to be a leader from that standpoint in terms of helping guys with the system and the scheme. He's very good instinctively . . ."

"This guy's going to be replacing my knee someday. I'm serious. He's going to be an orthopedic surgeon that's outstanding. I know that's what his goals are. But hopefully he gets to play a lot of football between now and then."

There's one more Patriots link connecting Ellis to New England. His agent, Neil Cornrich, has counted Belichick as a client and also represents Bielema, Ferentz, Flowers, Derby, undrafted Patriots rookies Cole Croston and LeShun Daniels (both of whom played under Ferentz at Iowa) and Patriots running back Rex Burkhead. 

It may come as no surprise then that when Ellis signed with the Patriots, no one knew. He didn't announce it on Twitter, as is the norm for undrafted players when they come to an agreement with a team. And the news wasn't leaked. Instead, he waited for the team to announce it, which his new employers probably appreciated.

Ellis, who according to the Boston Globe received the fifth-most guaranteed money of the 19 undrafted rookies the Patriots signed, said he received some simplie advice from Cornrich before making his way to New England.

"He just said that you'll fit in well there," Ellis said. "You're the type of guy they like, and you're the type of guy that succeeds in that organization. Don't do anything special. Just go out there and work like you do every day, and it'll turn out for the best."

Even if it doesn't, Ellis will have medical school. But he acknowledges there's some unpredictability with that path, just as there is being an undrafted player in the NFL. He still has to be accepted. His application, including personal statements, interviews and MCAT results -- "It was horrible, I don't want to take that ever again," Ellis said -- still has to be deemed up-to-snuff.  

Whenever Ellis starts, it will be the beginning of almost a decade of training between schooling and residency. It will be a challenge, he knows, and it's one that he looks forward to. But he's hoping it can wait because football is important to him. 

"It just makes you work harder," he said of his uncertain future. "It makes you really focus on right now, and make sure that you're doing all you can in this area because even the next area might not be there.

"That's what I've done. I'm just working as hard as I can on this, and if that doesn't work out, then I've got the next thing, and I'm going to work as hard as I can in that area."

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

NFLPA tells rookies to be like Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski is a model citizen in the NFL. In fact, the NFL Players Association is advising rookies to be more like Gronk, according to The Boston Globe

The New England Patriots tight end has developed a name for himself on and off the football field. With that attention comes branding. And at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere from May 18 to 20, the NFLPA encouraged rookies to develop their own brand -- much like Gronkowski.

“Some people think he’s just this extension of a frat boy, and that it’s sort of accidental,” Ahmad Nassar said, via The Globe. Nassar is the president of NFL Players Inc., the for-profit subsidiary of the NFLPA. “And that’s wrong. It’s not accidental, it’s very purposeful. So the message there is, really good branding is where you don’t even feel it. You think, ‘Oh, that’s just Gronk being Gronk.’ Actually, that’s his brand, but it’s so good and so ingrained and so authentic, you don’t even know it’s a brand or think it.”

Gronkowski's "Summer of Gronk" has indirectly become one of his streams of income. The tight end makes appearances for magazines and sponsors. Because of his earnings from branding and endorsements, he didn't touch his NFL salary during the early years of his career.

Gronk was one of three players who were the topics of discussion during the symposium. Dak Prescott and Odell Beckham were also used as examples of players who have been able to generate additional income from endorsements. Beckham, in particular, has been in the spotlight off the football field. He's appeared on the cover of Madden, and just signed a deal with NIke which is reportedly worth $25 million over five years with upwards of $48 million over eight years. His deal, which is a record for an NFL player, will pay him more than his contract with the Giants.

“A lot of people talk to the players about, ‘You should be careful with your money and you should treat your family this way and you should treat your girlfriend or your wife.’ Which is fine. I think that’s valuable,” Nassar said, via The Globe. “But we don’t often give them a chance to answer the question: How do you see yourself as a brand? Because Gronk, Odell, none of those guys accidentally ended up where they are from a branding and marketing standpoint.”