Bill Belichick: Vince Wilfork ‘exemplified all the things that define football greatness’

With Vince Wilfork set to join the ranks of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame, coach Bill Belichick released a glowing statement about the team’s retired star defensive tackle.

“Vince exemplified all the things that define football greatness. Vince’s rare physical ability was obvious, but it was his professional approach to the game, his competitiveness, toughness and dedication to the team that set him, and several of his teams, apart. Vince Wilfork is an all-time great player,” Belichick wrote in Wednesday’s statement.

Wilfork recorded 560 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and 38 QB hits in 189 games played over 13 seasons. He finished his career with five Pro Bowl nods and two Super Bowl wins.

Steve Belichick says Patriots LB Josh Uche is ‘an important piece to the puzzle’

After training camp in 2021, Josh Uche’s breakout game seemed inevitable. The speedy, pass-rushing linebacker flew around the field in practices and was a disruptive presence off the edge. He looked, at times, like a worthy counterpart to outside linebacker Matthew Judon.

And yet Uche never played more than 48% of defensive snaps in any one game and finished the year taking the field for just 22% of the team’s defensive snaps. The breakout game never came. He had 12 tackles and three sacks. It wasn’t the second-year leap that many anticipated.

He has a massive opportunity in 2022, however. With the Patriots trimming away their veteran linebackers like Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Can Noy, New England figures to ask more of Uche.

“I see him (as) part of the blueprint, and I see him being an important piece to the puzzle for us going forward,” Patriots outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of other factors to it besides just what he’s going to do. We’ve got to see what everybody else does and work the pieces around from there, but I see Josh being a big part of this defense.”

To some degree, the Patriots didn’t give Uche a path to the field with the signings of Matthew Judon and the return of Van Noy and Collins. But at the same time, the team might not have considered those additions in 2021 if Uche had developed at a more accelerated pace. Either way, Uche was a 2020 second-round pick and figures to be in the prove-it phase of his career. There’s a void of snaps and leadership in that linebacker group.

“You also miss the presence of a guy like Hightower, Kyle, Jamie. They’ve played a lot of football for us,” Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said. “With that being said, I would say this group — they bring a lot of energy to the table. They bring a lot of energy to the classroom. We all miss those guys but at the same time, we have to move on.”

Uche has no one in front of him on the roster. He needs to make good on his draft status and immense potential. He needs to convert it all into production.

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