Wilfork, Mayo act as leaders even while injured

Wilfork, Mayo act as leaders even while injured
January 3, 2014, 10:00 am
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FOXBORO -- They've been on the sidelines in hooded sweatshirts and winter beanies. They've been in the locker room. They've sat in meeting rooms and bounced around the Gillette Stadium facilities to get treatment or watch film.

Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork have been unable to play since early in the season, both on injured reserve with season-ending ailments, but they have been ever present for their teammates and done their best to make up for their on-the-field absence with their own brand of coaching.

"We've had both Vince and Jerod on the sidelines for several games this year and both of those guys bring experience, confidence and just football savvy to the game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on "Patriots All Access" recently. "Teams they've played against, situations they've been in. I think there have been times on the bench and during the game where they can see what they see and kind of relay it to the players.

"When you're playing, it's harder to do that because you're trying to do your job, you're not trying to help everyone else. You're just trying to communicate and get on the same page. But sometimes when you're not playing, it gives you an opportunity to actually give some information and a perspective on the game that can be very helpful. I know that our guys that are playing, some of our younger players, really appreciate what both Vince and Jerod have done for us."

On defense the Patriots have started several rookies throughout the course of the season, including defensive linemen Chris Jones and Joe Vellano and defensive backs Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins has played significant snaps late in the season, and third-year pro Sealver Siliga got his first-ever regular-season start as a defensive tackle in New England this year.

Though not every young player shares a position with Wilfork or Mayo, having the two defensive captains stick around has proven beneficial to anyone still developing in the Patriots system.

"You look at guys like that, they're leaders of the whole defense," Harmon said, "so they'll say something to the defense on the sideline, picking us up maybe when we're not playing as well as we should be. They'll be looking at cards, trying to help out with adjustments. Those guys they do a great job, and it shows why they're leaders of our team."

At times, their presence alone, the clout that Wilfork and Mayo carry, is enough to encourage younger Patriots defenders to perform well. Both have set a precedent over the years for a certain standard of effort in the middle of New England's defense, and no twenty-something fresh out of college wants to be the one to allow that to be eroded while the standard-bearers are sidelined.

“It says a lot about those guys who are on IR, that they still stick around the locker room and give advice to young guys like me," Ryan said. "It just kind of shows the chemistry of this team, and it kind of shows the standard that a Vince Wilfork and a Jerod Mayo, that they uphold. You don’t want to let them down.”

Siliga has tried to be a sponge since he arrived in New England as a member of the practice squad in October. He has been seen taking advice from Wilfork on hand-to-hand combat at the line of scrimmage, and he has used advice from veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly -- who is also on injured reserve -- to help him adjust to a new style of taking on blocks taught by the Patriots.

"I just have lines of mentors that I can learn from," Siliga said recently. "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."

Belichick's seen Wilfork's knowledge of the game develop over the last decade of his professional career.

"Vince is a very astute guy, and he pays attention to all the little things," Belichick said. "He's a got a good understanding of the entire defense. Not just defensive-line play, but all of our concepts and the core fundamentals of defensive football."

With both Wilfork and Mayo out, Rob Ninkovich and Devin McCourty have been named captains for the Patriots defense. Ninkovich explained that despite the fact that those two are no longer in pads, their leadership ability is still vital to how the team functions.

"It's unfortunate that those guys can't be out there with me and playing with the defense, but having them there on the sidelines, they can give the younger guys some tips on what they see," he said. "Mayo obviously is definitely a leader that we miss out there so having him there at least on the sidelines is great for us to see him there and being able to talk to him or ask him a question about what's going on. And [Vince] as well. Same thing."

Asked what he's learned from Wilfork and Mayo in terms of being a good captain, Ninkovich said, "I just lead by example. I'm going to go out there and do my job, leave it all out there on the field. I hope that everybody around me sees the way that I put in my work and I'll go out there and give it my all. I think that for me, vocally I'll talk to somebody if they need something, if they need to talk to me about anything, if there's any questions I'm happy to talk with them about it. But I definitely just want to be out there doing my job and doing my best to help the team win."

McCourty has filled in dutifully as well. Even before he was named a captain, he was the defacto leader of the Patriots secondary. Since his appointment, he's only continued to show his young teammates how things need to be done at the back end of New England's defense.

"He's taught me to not over-think it," Harmon said of McCourty. "Sometimes I over-think and second-guess myself, but he lets me know I know what I'm doing and tells me to just go out there and do it and don't worry about it."

Throughout the bye week and on the sidelines next Saturday night, both Wilfork and Mayo will likely continue to make their presence felt inside Gillette Stadium, redefining the Patriot Way as not only "next man up" but also "in it for the long haul."

"You look at them, they don't have to be here," Harmon said. "But they care so much about this program, this franchise, that they choose to stick around. It's a lot of younger guys so they stick around and help us. That's just a testament to the type of place this is."