OWINGS MILLS – Grappling with massive New England Patriots nose guard Vince Wilfork is a formidable assignment for any blocker, no matter how many heavy weights they hoist or steaks they gobble down.
That’s why the smart approach to a wrestling match with this brawny, active defensive lineman is a tag-team strategy.
Wilfork is capable of collapsing the pocket with his superior brute strength. He’s also quick enough to shoot through a gap to penetrate the line of scrimmage.
The Baltimore Ravens are intent on halting his charge Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“Vince is a big, strong guy with quickness,” offensive guard Chris Chester said. “We’re going to have to be on our game to be successful. The more the merrier is the best way with him. It’s easier for two guys to block him than one-on-one. We’re ready for whatever, but he’s an excellent player because he has that good combination of size and quickness.”
Although listed at 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, the height listing appears to be generous by at least an inch. And the two-time Pro Bowl selection is probably closer to tipping the scales at a well-conditioned 360 pounds.
The former University of Miami standout has just 13 tackles this season, but his impact is better measured by how many blockers he occupies to allow inside linebacker Jerod Mayo to flow freely to the football.
Mayo already has 46 tackles and one sack.
“Wilfork is a great player,” said center Matt Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl selection. “He’s great against the run. He plays really hard. He probably doesn’t get enough credit as a pass rusher. He’s not just big, he’s big and explosive.
“He’s athletic. He can control gaps. He can two-gap. He can line up in a gap and shoot it. We’ve got our hands full, that’s for sure.”
A 2007 All-Pro selection, Wilfork has registered 313 career tackles and 7 ½ sacks in seven NFL seasons.
The Patriots showed what kind of esteem they hold Wilfork in by signing him to a five-year, $40 million contract in March that included $25 million in guaranteed money earlier this year after initially naming him their franchise player heading into free agency.
“He’s one of the premier run-stoppers, without question,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “And the interesting thing, if you watch him, he’s a pretty darn good pass rusher. He’s a power rusher, but he gets on edges and he can finish like a pass rusher.”
The native of Boynton Beach, Fla., was drafted in the first round by the Patriots in the 2004 NFL draft with the 21st overall pick.
The former shot put and discus prep and college champion is much faster than he looks.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.08 seconds at the NFL scouting combine when he was coming out of college. He also bench pressed 225 pounds 36 times.
Since establishing himself in the NFL, Wilfork has been an active, albeit grumpy presence.
He’s been fined several times in the past for unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct, once elbowing quarterback Jay Cutler in the head and narrowly escaping a suspension.
“He definitely plays with a mean streak,” Chester said. “You can see that on the film. It jumps out at you, the way he plays the game.”
The Ravens hit an 83-yard touchdown run up the middle with Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice during their AFC wild-card playoff rout of the Patriots last January.
Wilfork appeared to be out of position on the play and offensive guard Ben Grubbs shoved him even further out the way as Rice burst through untouched.
“I can’t remember what went wrong here,” Wilfork told Baltimore reporters during a conference call. “It was a crease that he hit and then it was a regular play. We played that play 100 times before. It was just a crease he hit, and then he was out of the gates.
“We’ll learn from the past. Last year was last year, and it’s a whole new season. This year is this year, and that’s the way we want to keep it. As far as dwelling over it? No, we’re way past that.”
Wilford made it abundantly clear that he isn’t consumed by last year and how Rice rushed for 262 yards in two games against New England last season.
He’s gearing up for a hard-nosed encounter with the Ravens’ interior line.
“Those guys play well together in there,” Wilfork said. “They’re tough, they play physical. To be a part of a Ravens team, you have to be tough and physical. You can just tell the way they play. They’re playing well this year. They have all the confidence in the world and they should because of the success they’ve had over the years.
“So, it’s going to be a tough matchup for us. They probably are the best offense around. We’ve got to do a really good job defensively in just taking care of what we need to take care of.”