GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 3, 2013

Life without a legend begins now for Patriots

On Pro Football
Hector Longo

---- — Admit it, you peeked at Wikipedia, just to see what Ted Washington was up to these days.

Come on, even at age 45, and certainly upwards of 400 pounds, old “Mount Washington,” who retired in 2007 and is actually Hall of Fame eligible, could actually be considered a suitable replacement in these parts, now that news spread like wildfire this week in these parts of Vince Wilfork’s torn Achilles.

Certainly, Bill Belichick didn’t go that far as he pondered his defense without big Vince dominating the trenches. But you know the coach and his staff searched hard this week for answers — both inside the box and out — to fill that mammoth void.

The sane solution said make amends and give Richard Seymour a call. But the former Patriots and Raiders great closed the book on that potential solution on a national radio interview Monday, saying his time here ran its course.

So, what do the Pats do now? Wilfork’s absence was hardly felt at all Sunday night in Atlanta as the Falcons trailed and had to air it out.

But that will change quick. As quickly as this week in Cincinnati. How can the Pats replace Wilfork?

1. “Next man up” — It’s the mantra that New England has lived by over the past decade or so, no matter who the injured party was.

In this case, if the Pats stay in a base 4-3, it would be Joe Vellano, a Sunday night here, to move into the starting spot on first and second down. Vellano, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound rookie out of Maryland, hardly poses the imposing physical presence of a Wilfork, but there has to be something here.

Belichick invested a ton of time and reps in this kid over the summer, losing interest in the Marcus Forstons and Kyle Loves.

He won’t be asked for much. Stuff the run. Jog off the field on third down, a lot like Wilfork was asked for in the first 5-6 years here.

Belichick’s system already bumps Chandler Jones inside on passing downs with Michael Buchanan and Jake Becquette taking turns in the pass-rush rotation.

2. Back to bread-and-butter — Remember that dinosaur of a defense known as the 3-4? Belichick certainly does. And without Wilfork, could we see a shift back from a more stout 4-3 to a speedy and athletic 3-4?

Tommie Kelly, the veteran, shifts to nose. Neither Rob Ninkovich nor Chandler Jones is your traditional three-technique end in the 3-4, but at some point, you wonder if their quickness in the pass-rush wouldn’t pay more dividends than you’re giving up against the run.

The move would place Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower inside, There’s plenty of beef there, and both have shown the penchant to fill and tackle. I like Jerod Mayo outside on the tight end side of the field, and that leaves the wild card in the formation.

Highly-touted rookie Jamie Collins fits the physical stature of the prototypical rush outside linebacker in the 3-4, the Lawrence Taylor spot if you will.

Shifting at midseason can’t be easy, but this Patriots defense was once built on its versatility. With all these premium picks exhausted defensively by Belichick in the past six years, why not now?

3. Go elsewhere — Casey Hampton is 36 and remains a free agent that the Steelers chose not to re-sign.

The “Big Snack” has been buried by injuries and nagging problems in his latter years.

Is there a replacement nose out there? Certainly, Belichick will run them through Gillette Stadium this week.

4. Go off the board — Remember the days of the “amoeba” and one or no defensive linemen in the game. Perhaps it is time for the Pats to believe in the athletes on the field and get a little crazy.

Tommy Kelly and Jones with five linebackers and a safety switching up their gap control and meandering about gives plenty for other offenses to ponder.

“We have a lot of talented guys on our team. I think Vince got hurt in the first quarter yesterday and guys really stepped up and played well for us,” said Mayo. “We ended up getting the victory which is always is a good thing. That’s our mentality, is the next man up and I’m sure – we have a lot of great people, great players, great leaders — in the organization in general so I know I expect that to continue on.”

There is no panic here, but there is concern. Wilfork is a Hall of Fame talent, who is done for at least this year, potentially forever. The face of this defense is altered for good. We’ll see just how much or how little it suffers in the coming weeks.