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New England Patriots

Two rookies likely to step in for injured Wilfork

  • New England Patriots defensive tackles Joe Vellano (72) and Chris Jones (94) run during a stretching and drills session before practice begins at the NFL football team's facility in  Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    New England Patriots defensive tackles Joe Vellano (72) and Chris Jones (94) run during a stretching and drills session before practice begins at the NFL football team's facility in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

  • New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

  • Chris Jones

    Chris Jones

  • New England Patriots defensive tackles Joe Vellano (72) and Chris Jones (94) run during a stretching and drills session before practice begins at the NFL football team's facility in  Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
  • New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
  • New England Patriots defensive tackle Joe Vellano (72) and defensive end Chandler Jones (95) sit on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
  • Chris Jones

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Vince Wilfork helped his rookie backups as they tried to learn the New England 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 yesterday, “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.

“Vince was the rock in there, man,” safety Steve Gregory said. “He’s a heck of a football player and a big loss for our team.”

He still should be around Gillette Stadium, rehabbing and eventually attending team meetings.

“You can’t learn enough from him. He’s miles ahead of everybody, so you’re trying to just pick up here and there,” Vellano said. “Vince is irreplaceable, one of the best guys at the position and a leader.”

The Patriots signed Vellano in early May, about a week after he went undrafted out of Maryland. He played in 38 percent of the snaps in the first three games, then in 43 percent against Atlanta. He picked up his first sack against the Falcons.

Jones was drafted by the Houston Texans out of Bowling Green in the sixth round. He was waived on Aug. 31 and claimed by Tampa Bay. But he was inactive for the Buccaneers’ opener on Sept. 8 and released two days later. He signed with the Patriots the next day.

“There’s some down times, obviously, getting rejected so many times,” Jones said, “but I’m here now and I’m happy.”

He made his NFL debut last Sunday night, playing 19 of the 76 snaps as the Patriots improved to 4-0. He could play more at Cincinnati on Sunday, when the Bengals (2-2) could focus on running with Wilfork’s massive presence missing.

“He’s a great football player. Really, just sit back and watch him,” Jones said. “He’s a pretty quiet guy, but he’s a great leader. He’ll take me to the side and he’s actually one of the first guys that came up to me and talked to me and introduced himself.”

Wilfork often is double teamed, creating openings for teammates. Now Tommy Kelly, who played his other nine seasons with the Oakland Raiders, should get most of that attention as the other starting defensive tackle.

“The biggest thing is that those guys are very consistent day in and day out,” Vellano said, “and they play blocks the right way every time.”

Jones was nervous when he went into Sunday’s game, but expects to be calmer at Cincinnati.

“You can’t really replace a player like Vince,” he said, “but all we can do is just keep practicing hard and getting better as a whole.”

And learn from Wilfork in the meeting rooms.

“He’ll be here giving everything he can to the team, still,” quarterback Tom Brady said. “His presence in the locker room, on the field will be missed. At the same time, the train keeps moving. No one feels sorry for the Patriots. We have to keep fighting on, just as Vince would want us to do. He wants us to go out there and play well and he’ll encourage us.

“There are big shoes to fill, literally and figuratively, because he’s such a unique talent and player and person, but we have to still go out there and try to win games.”

∎ ∎ ∎

Besides Wilfork, special teams captain Matthew Slater (wrist) and running back Stevan Ridley (knee) missed practice. Tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm, back) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) were limited.

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