Wilfork leaves a hole for Patriots rookies to fill

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FOXBOROUGH (AP) -- Vince Wilfork helped his rookie backups as they tried to learn the Patriots' complex defense.

Now, results of his teaching could be tested.

The star defensive tackle is expected to miss the rest of the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon. That should mean more playing time for Joe Vellano and Chris Jones. Vellano wasn't drafted and Jones already has been cut by two teams.

"Obviously, somebody is going to have to replace him," New England coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday, "but, collectively, as a team, we're all going to have to pull together. There's no one person that can replace Vince Wilfork."

The five-time Pro Bowl player is probably heavier than his listed weight of 325 pounds. Vellano is listed at 300 and Smith at 309. And they're way behind him -- about nine years -- in knowing what to do in the middle of the defensive line.

Wilfork, drafted by the Patriots in the first round in 2004, has missed just six games in his career. But he was injured on the Patriots' first defensive series of their 30-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday night. He underwent surgery, and his wife tweeted a photo of him on a recliner and giving a thumbs-up sign while his right foot was in a cast.


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