Wilfork's presence aids newcomer Neblett

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Vince Wilfork's season-ending Achilles injury has left a big void at the heart of the New England Patriots' defense, but Wilfork is still a presence around the club.

In fact, free-agent defensive tackle Andre Neblett said Wilfork has played an important role in easing his transition to the team after he signed a one-year deal with a $630,000 base salary on Wednesday.

“He was here, in a couple of meetings, sitting in there giving us advice,” Neblett said Friday. “I see we have a lot of young guys on the D-line and it was great for him to come in and help us.”

The 6-foot-0, 310-pound Neblett relayed that Wilfork's advice to him was straight-forward: “He said things change around here quick, so stay on top of your game and it will help you stay around. Just come in and work and stay in the playbook.”

Neblett has long admired Wilfork, going back to Wilfork's college days at Miami.

“Miami was the powerhouse at the time and I would look at him and wonder how a guy that big moves so well,” he said. “Now being here, right next to him [in the locker room], trying to fill in for him, those are going to be big shoes to fill. I'm going to do my best.”

Neblett, who has a thick beard that would fit well in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse, has been more of a 4-3, penetrating defensive tackle in his first three years in the NFL -- first with the Carolina Panthers (2010-2012) and then in training camp this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Patriots' scheme is different, often asking linemen to play two gaps, but Neblett thinks he will be able to make the transition.

“Because I'm a fast guy and at the same time a technician, I can kind of adjust,” he said. “As far as playing the two-gap, I can do that. I use my hands well and I'm able to stay low as a short, stocky guy. So I can get under guys and hopefully get back there and penetrate and also hold some gaps.”

And if all else fails, Neblett -- whose presence takes on added importance with veteran Tommy Kelly (right knee) unlikely to play on Sunday -- figures he doesn't need to overthink it.

“All I know is run to the ball and I'll be all right,” he chuckled.