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October 1, 2013

Wilfork a load for Patriots to replace

If you're a New England Patriots fan, admit you peeked at Wikipedia to see what Ted Washington is 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 Hall of Fame eligible, could actually be considered a suitable replacement in these parts, now that  noseguard Vince Wilfork is out for the season with a torn Achilles heel.

Coach Bill Belichick didn’t go that far as he pondered his defense without Wilfork dominating the middle of the defensive line. But you know the coach and his staff are searching for answers to fill that 6-foot-2, 230-pound void.

Wilfork’s absence was hardly felt against Atlanta on Sunday night after he was carted off the field early in the game. That's because Atlanta used an aerial attack to try to catch up to the Patriots upon falling behind by three scores.

But that will change this week in Cincinnati, which features a grinding ground game to complement quarterback Andy Dalton's unsteady arm.

How can the Pats replace Wilfork?

1. “Next man up” is the mantra New England's lives by no matter who the injured party, evidenced by backup Matt Cassel replacing Tom Brady in the first game of the 2008 season when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. Cassels quarterbacked  the Patriots to 11 wins.

In Wilfork's case, if the Pats stay in a base 4-3 defense, Joe Vellano is the next man up. But the 6-foot-2, 300-pound rookie out of Maryland hardly doesn't present the imposing physical presence of Wilfork.

Vellano won’t be asked for much. Stuff the run. Disrupt the pass blocking. Jog off the field on third down, a lot like Wilfork did the first years with the Patriots.

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

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