When Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork tore his right Achilles tendon in September, it created a huge void in the middle of the New England Patriots' defense.
Since that key injury, former Terps defensive lineman Joe Vellano has helped stabilize the position, emerging as a productive starter. In 14 games (eight starts), the undrafted free agent has recorded 48 tackles and two sacks.
A two-time team captain who had 61 tackles and six sacks as a senior last season at Maryland, Vellano had three tackles and a sack in his first game replacing Wilfork against the Atlanta Falcons. And the 6-foot-2, 300-pound former All-American and all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection had a career-high nine tackles against the New York Jets and recovered a fumble against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Yeah, another Terp, Joe did a good job for us, got some playing time," Patriots coach Bill Belichick told Baltimore reporters today during a conference call. "We've had some injuries at that position, and he has stepped in and done a good job. Joe works hard.
"He is a tough kid. He really competes well and is in pretty good condition. He has had to play a lot of plays in several games. He has really hung in there and done a good job for us."