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Texas alum Malcom Brown a big part of Patriots' plans filling Vince Wilfork void

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots selected defensive tackle Malcom Brown with their first-round pick in the 2015 draft, one of Brown’s first homework assignments was to study a franchise stalwart.

Malcom, meet Vince.

“When I got drafted, they started mentioning his name and I started watching tape on him. I was like ‘Whoa, look at this guy,’” Brown recalled this week. “He’s a great player who played with a motor. Even early in his career, as I watched him on tape, it seemed he understood the defense and his role.”

How the Patriots would replace Vince Wilfork, who signed a two-year, $9 million contact with the Houston Texans, was one of the notable offseason storylines surrounding the team. It’s a timely topic to revisit this week, as the Patriots visit Wilfork and the Texans on Sunday night.

Brown, who starred at the University of Texas before surprisingly slipping to New England with the No. 32 overall pick, has been a big part of the replacement plans. His burst into the offensive backfield to tackle Eagles running back DeMarco Murray for a 6-yard loss on Sunday (second quarter, 7:21) was one example of how he’s making his mark, especially as his playing time has risen over the last four games.

Overall this season, Brown has played in every game and logged 41.8 percent of the defensive snaps, which leads all interior linemen. He has totaled 33 tackles (21 solo) and three sacks.

Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia praised Brown’s work ethic and adjustment to learning a significantly different scheme than he was familiar with in college (e.g. more two-gap principles). At 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds, Brown has shown strength to hold his ground against the run, but also the athleticism to push the pocket with a quicker first step than one might expect from a player his size, and also the ability to chase down plays to the sideline.

“He’s strong and he’s athletic. He uses those to his advantage,” fellow defensive tackle Alan Branch said. “You see situations where you might see a d-tackle get cut, or messed up in a certain technique, but he’s always consistent with being able to stay on his feet or finding a way to get in on the tackle.”

It’s easy to forget now, but Wilfork wasn’t a full-time player in his rookie season, instead playing behind veteran Keith Traylor as he learned the team’s scheme coming out of the University of Miami.

By his final season with the team in 2014, Wilfork played 73.9 percent of the snaps, and that was a big void for the Patriots to fill this year -- on the field, and off the field as well.

“He had great leadership in the defense and in the locker room. I don’t think anyone could step into his shoes,” said Branch, who has played 35.9 percent of the defensive snaps this season, followed by Sealver Siliga (27.4) and Akiem Hicks (20.3) at the big interior defensive tackle spot. “He meant a lot for this team and this city. Really, we have to go out and make our own footsteps and imprint the game with our style of play.”

With Brown playing a leading role, they’ve done just that.

“Whenever my number is called upon,” he said, “I go and do what I have to do.”