Even before defensive end Ty Warren was put on the Patriots injured reserve list, the team's defense was in transition. Competition for starting spots was being held in several areas. In the middle of that transition is nose tackle Vince Wilfork. After the Patriots first joint practice with the Atlanta Falcons, he offered his assessment of the current state of affairs.
"I've been playing with Ty [Warren] for seven years. He knew the system. It always hurts when a teammate goes down, especially when you're personally attached," said Wilfork of Warren. "But the guys that have stepped in, they've been doing a helluva job. They know football."
The guys Wilfork is referring to are free agent signees Gerard Warren and Damione Lewis. Warren seems to be the one in line to replace Ty Warren at left end next to Wilfork. Now in his 10th season, he's hardly lacking experience but familiarity with the Patriots 3-4 system is something he's catching up on.
"It's a process. I think Gerard got a little of it out there with [defensive coordinator Rob] Ryan in Oakland," explained Wilfork. "We know they're willing to learn. They're putting the extra time in," he added about both Warren and Lewis.
"We still have a long way to go, don't get me wrong. But at the same time they're doing a helluva job. We have 100 percent faith in these guys. I'm happy with what we have them," continued Wilfork on his teammates' progress. "They don't make excuses. That's one thing I love, they don't make excuses."
It's not just to the left and right of Wilfork that's changing. When Gary Guyton went down with an injury early in camp, second round draft choice Brandon Spikes saw an opportunity to earn his spot at inside linebacker. So far, Wilfork likes what he sees.
"He's every bit the person I thought he was [coming out of college]," said Wilfork of Spikes. "Hard nosed. Tough player. Loves football. That's exactly what he brought and that's exactly what we need on this team."
Another area in question is outside linebacker. Tully Banta-Cain has one side locked down but the other side is up for grabs. Up until Friday, when Derrick Burgess returned after not reporting due to personal issues, the position was unsettled, to put it mildly. Burgess's return has lent some stability to the situation.
"Helluva football player, helluva person," is how Wilfork described Burgess. "Most of all he loves what he does. I'm happy he's my teammate.
This Thursday night Wilfork will get another chance to see how his fellow defensive teammates are shaping up under game conditions. He's hoping he sees guys that want to win as badly as he does. And that's pretty bad.
"I hate to lose. I don't care if it's a spitting contest. If it's something you can win, I want to win it."