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With Vince Wilfork gone, Patriots defense looks to likes of Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich to fill leadership void 08.01.15 at 1:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — While much of the offseason focus is on how the Patriots’ defense will survive the offseason departure of cornerback Darrelle Revis, from an off-field perspective, the loss of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork looms just as large.

The veteran, who was an absolutely essential part of the Patriots success since he arrived as a first-round pick in 2004, left for the Texans in the offseason. And while it’s one thing to talk about his departure from a purely statistical standpoint, his leadership skills were just as valuable. Now, it will fall to a new generation of defensive players to guide younger players in the same fashion that Wilfork did for the last decade.

Two of the likely candidates to assume more of a leadership role on the defensive side of the ball in 2015 are safety Devin McCourty and defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich. McCourty arrived in 2010, while Ninkovich was picked up as a street free agent in 2009, making them two of the senior members of the New England defense. (Linebacker Jerod Mayo is the only one with more service time with the Patriots. having first shown up in 2008.) Both talked this week about facing an increased level of expectations with Wilfork no longer in the locker room.

“The key to being a leader is just being yourself,” McCourty said. “I continue to just do that — be myself. I think obviously, there’s a big hole with Vince being gone, but I think we have good leaders on this team. Obviously there’s myself and Mayo. Guys like (Dont’a) Hightower, Jamie (Collins), Chandler (Jones), Rob (Ninkovich). Those guys have been playing for awhile, along with (Patrick) Chung. So we just have to keep trucking and keep going forward.”

“Vince was obviously a great figure in the organization, and I have tons of respect for him. But the way that the business works, there will always be turnover — you’ll always lose guys. That just happens across the league,” Ninkovich said.

He added: “For us, it’s continuing to do what we’ve done in the past, and that’s coming to work hard every day and setting a good example for the young guys of how to prepare and how to practice and get ready for the football season. For me, it’s not going to be rah-rah, speeches here and there. It’s going to be coming to work every day and doing my job at a high level and leading by example.”

Read More: Devin McCourty, Rob Ninkovich, Vince Wilfork,
Countdown to camp: Defensive line 07.29.15 at 3:51 pm ET
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How will the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? (Elsa/Getty Images)

How will the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork? (Elsa/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the offensive side of the ball and now we’€™ve shifted to defense with the cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties, now we take a look at the defensive line.

Depth chart (regular-season stats via Pro Football Reference): Rob Ninkovich (53 tackles, 8 sacks), Jabaal Sheard (25 tackles, 2 sacks), Chandler Jones (37 tackles, 6 sacks) Dominique Easley (6 tackles, 1 sack), Sealver Siliga (21 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Alan Branch (14 tackles), Jake Bequette, Chris Jones (16 tackles, 3 sacks), Joe Vellano (4 tackles, 1 sack), Zach Moore, Malcom Brown (rookie), Trey Flowers (rookie)

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. It’s a different group than a year ago. While they may have lost only one player, it was their leader Vince Wilfork. Without Wilfork it will surely be a different group and they will need someone to step up and take on a leadership role, which will likely be Ninkovich. The team also went out and signed Sheard, who was a free agent after spending last season with the Browns. While they will be without the biggest guy in the middle, the talent is still there to keep up the success.

2. Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard will be good. The Patriots could have one of the best outside pass rush grouping in the entire league with these three. Ninkovich has had eight sacks in three straight seasons, Jones had six in an injury-plagued 2014 season and Sheard will benefit from having the other two players with him. These three rotating in-and-out will likely create matchup problems for opposing defenses and allow the Patriots to get constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks when they choose.

3. They will need to make more of an impact. Last season the secondary was the group which led the defense and this year it will be the front-seven with the departures of Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington in the secondary. It will likely be the opposite of things from last year, as this year it will be the front-seven taking some pressure off of the secondary rather than the other way around like last season.

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Read More: Alan Branch, chandler jones, Countdown to Camp, Dominique Easley
A familiar ring: Current, former Patriots gather for lavish ceremony to celebrate Super Bowl XLIX win 06.14.15 at 11:19 pm ET
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Tom Brady shows off his jewelry. (Photo courtesy New England Patriots)

Tom Brady shows off his jewelry Sunday night. (New England Patriots)

In the latest chapter of an eventful offseason, the Patriots got their Super Bowl XLIX rings in a ceremony at Robert Kraft’s home in Brookline on Sunday night, part of an evening that included several former players reuniting with their old mates to celebrate the championship.

As a result of their win over the Seahawks in February, the team received the largest Super Bowl ring in league history following a cocktail reception and dinner.

“I have been blessed to host four Super Bowl ring ceremonies, and just like the rings we present, we have tried to make each ceremony a little bigger and a little better than the one before,” Kraft said. “Football is the consummate team sport. These championship rings represent all that the team endured and overcame together. The players on this team will forever be bound by the memories this ring represents.

“The presentation of the rings is one of my favorite moments. I love watching the expressions on the faces of each of our players and the range of emotions they experience when they see the ring for the first time and the pride they all have when they put it on. Tonight’s celebration is really a culmination of a job well done.”

Of the four ring ceremonies, this was the third held at Kraft’s home. The one held in June 2002 to celebrate the win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI was part of a team get-together at a private waterfront ceremony at the Boston Harbor Hotel.

While former players like Vince Wilfork and Tim Wright apparently made the journey to celebrate with their now ex-teammates, one former player who was not present was cornerback Darrelle Revis. According to one report, the cornerback was going to send his mother to pick up his Super Bowl ring because he had a “prior commitment.” However, a team spokesman indicated that Revis’ mother was not in attendance. (There was a report that Revis’ mother had been turned away at the entrance. That report was denied by a source.) For what it’s worth, Revis’ absence didn’t appear to put much of a damper on things — at least by the looks of the Twitter accounts of various players.

According to the team, in 2003 and 2004, when the Patriots won back-to-back Super Bowls, the championship rings were adorned with 104 and 124 diamonds respectively. This year’s rings, handcrafted by Josten’s, features 205 diamonds, and are cast in white gold. On one side, the recipient’s name sits atop the ring, along with the years of the franchise’s previous Super Bowl Championships in ’01, ’03, ’04 and 2014. Each player’s number, encrusted in diamonds, sits just above the Gillette Stadium logo. The other side of the ring features a Super Bowl XLIX logo with the final score, 28-24, on the left and the team’s overall record, 15-4, on the right.

Read More: Darrelle Revis, Robert Kraft, Tim Wright, Tom Brady
Vince Wilfork latest to show support for Tom Brady: ‘No matter what team I play for, Tommy boy, you always family’ 05.12.15 at 8:53 pm ET
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Vince Wilfork is the latest to show support for Tom Brady following his four-game suspension.

Even though Wilfork is now a member of the Houston Texans, he took to Facebook to show his support for the player he spent 11 seasons with in New England, winning two Super Bowls.

He wrote: 11 solid years, 4 Super Bowl appearances, 2 Super Bowl victories and ALOT of WINNING! Only thing I wish I could change is winning more SBs with THE BEST QB to ever play the game. No matter what team I play for, Tommy boy, you always family.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

11 solid years, 4 Super Bowl appearances, 2 Super Bowl victories and ALOT of WINNING! Only thing I wish I could change…

Posted by Vince Wilfork on Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Read More: Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork,
Now you can call him Dr. Vince Wilfork 05.04.15 at 10:49 am ET
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It was a busy weekend, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that former Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (it still sounds strange writing that) was honored by the New England Institute of Technology at their 75th commencement ceremony Sunday. He was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, and spoke to the graduates.

“We all have new chapters in our life that we’re going to have to attack,” said Wilfork. “I’m in Houston now, but you know what? I’m a Patriot and I’m always gonna be a Patriot, no matter how you slice it.”

Check out a picture below from Wilfork’s Twitter page for more from the event.

Read More: because it's the offseason, Vince Wilfork,
Bill Belichick sees similarities between Malcom Brown, Vince Wilfork 05.01.15 at 1:38 am ET
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FOXBORO — While many people will make the natural connection of Malcom Brown being Vince Wilfork‘s replacement, that would simply be unfair to the 21-year-old Brown, who the Patriots selected with pick No. 32 overall Thursday night.

In fact, Brown is a much more versatile player than Wilfork was, as the 6-foot-2, 320-pounder can move around on the defensive line, and showed the ability to be more than just a run-stopper.

“I’€™m sure there’€™s both [similarities and differences],” said Belichick of Brown and Wilfork. “We’€™ll see.”

“We have a lot of 320-pound guys around here, so we’€™ll see,” he added. “Every guy is their own player, so we’€™ll see. [We’€™ll] work with him and see how it goes.”

Brown was the fourth defensive lineman taken overall in the draft, and was the first defensive lineman selected since Arik Armstead at No. 17 overall.

“Just sat there and watched a lot of names come off the board,” Bill Belichick said. “But felt good about our selection of Malcom at 32. We’ll see how it goes. He’s a guy that’s played inside on the nose all the way outside to the 5-technique and kind of everywhere in between.

“He’s been moved around a little bit. He played a little more outside this year in [Texas coach Charlie] Strong’s defense, a little more inside for the previous staff. But he had plenty of snaps in a variety of spots. We look forward to working with him.”

With the Patriots not picking up Wilfork’s option, and not much depth behind him, it created a rather large need, thus the Patriots using their first round pick on a defensive player for the fourth year in a row.

Playing only three years at Texas, declaring for the draft after his junior season, Brown finished his career with 165 tackles, 8 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was a 2014 finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player) and Outland Trophy (top interior lineman). He also earned first-team All-America and All Big-12 honors.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Malcom Brown, Vince Wilfork,
Resetting Patriots depth chart: Defensive line 04.28.15 at 1:57 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

With the majority of free agency completed and the draft looming, we’re going to take a look at the Patriots depth chart by position, and try and assess the level of need going forward. We’ve broken down each position on the offensive side of the ball. Now, it’s defense, and we start with the defensive line:

Current depth chart: (2014 regular-season stats via coaches film review and Pro Football Reference): Chandler Jones (43 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed), Alan Branch (14 tackles, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed), Sealver Siliga (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits), Chris Jones (27 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits), Rob Ninkovich (56 tackles, 8 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery), Joe Vellano (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Zach Moore (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery), Michael Buchanan (1 tackle), Dominique Easley (9 tackles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hits). Jake Bequette remains on the practice squad, while the Patriots added DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard and defensive tackle Antonio Johnson in free agency.

Lost in free agency: Vince Wilfork (47 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed) signed with the Texans after the Patriots did not pick up his option. While he was able to bounce back following a season-ending Achilles injury in 2013 and go wire-to-wire in 2014, his off-field guidance as a pillar of the franchise could be a greater loss. DE/OLB Akeem Ayers (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed) who was acquired midway through the year, ended up signing with the Rams.

Gained in free agency: Sheard. The 6-foot-3, 264-pounder has played in all 16 games in three of his four seasons in the league, and he recorded 44 tackles and two sacks last year. The 25-year-old has 23 career sacks. Meanwhile, the 30-year-old Johnson has posted 98 tackles and 4.5 sacks in six seasons in the league with the Titans and Colts.

Other changes: The Patriots re-signed versatile vet Branch to a new deal, and while he should be an important part of the rotation along the defensive line in 2015, the real guy to watch will be Easley, who was shelved for the season with a knee injury in December. The first-round pick in 2014 certainly showed himself to be a disruptive presence when he was able to play, but can be step in and be a big part of the New England defense in 2015? It’s unclear where he might line up along the defensive front — based on his size, skill set and what we saw from him in 2014, he’s strength is probably working as a 4-3 defensive tackle, with some time at end. But his progression and his health (specifically, his knees) will certainly be worth monitoring this spring and summer. (It’s also worth mentioning that Buchanan is coming back after a season-ending injury derailed his 2014 campaign, and figures to be a part of the conversation at the backup defensive end spot.)

Is this an area of need going into the draft? It is, at least from this perspective. While the Patriots do have a talented defensive front, there’s still the need for a sizable, run-stuffing type in the middle who can at least try and replicate what Wilfork was able to bring from an on-field perspective. (Maybe the 6-foot-3, 328-pound Johnson will get that chance?) Whether the Patriots try and go after a big body in the draft or for one of the remaining veteran free agents left on the market, it’s something New England figures to address between now and the start of camp.

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, chandler jones, Chris Jones
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