Good Start for Rookie Lineman

Joe Vellano (Kevin Saleeba / Patriots Insider)

When All Pro lineman Vince Wilfork went down with an Achilles injury against Atlanta, he held his own through one game. But can he fill the void left by Wilfork the rest of the season?

It was first and ten on the Patriots 47-yard-line and Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense was on the move. New England was clinging to a slim 13-10 lead late in the third quarter and the defense was in need of a big play.

All-Pro Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork left the game after tearing his Achilles tendon early in the first quarter and rookie Joe Vellano was called on to take his place. Vellano made one of the more underrated plays of the game.

Vellano lined up in front of Falcons center Peter Konz and Ryan was in the shot gun. On the snap, Vellano knocked Konz to the right with an outstanding swim move and rushed up the middle after Ryan. As Ryan rolled to the right to escape, Vellano had enough speed to catch Ryan from behind for his fist NFL sack for minus 13 yards. The play stalled the Falcons drive and the Patriots went on to score 17 straight points to put the game out of reach.
Joe Vellano at practice (Kevin Saleeba / Patriots Insider)

"Joe is a hard working kid," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick after the game. "He has good instincts, kind of has a nose for the ball and a good feel for what's going on."

With Wilfork out for the rest of the season, the Patriots will be leaning on Vellano more than expected. The Patriots signed Vellano as an undrafted free agent from Maryland in May. In limited action prior to Wilforks injury, Vellano tallied ten tackles in four games.

In college, Vellano, 24, played defensive tackle as a sophomore and junior before being moved to end as a senior. He was selected as a team captain in 2011 and 2012 and was All-ACC First-Team as a senior with 61 tackles and six sacks. He had a career-high 94 tackles as a junior and was named an All-American and a consensus first team All-ACC choice.

"He was a productive player in college and he played a lot of spots at Maryland," said Belichick. "He played end, he played tackle, he played some on the nose … He's had an opportunity to get some playing time as we went through preseason and he took advantage of those opportunities, made a few plays, had some production and it probably led to a little bit more opportunity. He puts in a lot of extra time, tries to get better at the things he needs to work on and that's helped him."

The 6-foot-2, 300 pound Vellano has a long way to go to fill the void left by Wilfork, but he is off to a good start.

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Kevin Saleeba is the senior editor and columnist for Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinSaleeba

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