Wilfork could stick his nose in

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – If Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork knows whether his 325 pounds will be clogging up the middle against Jets runners on Sunday, he’s not saying.

Wilfork practiced all week and on Friday stretched with his teammates before trotting to another area for the start of drills with his right ankle wrapped.

On Sunday, he wants to be running around Gillette Stadium in New England’s first-round playoff game against New York.

Wilfork, who has missed three straight games after spraining his right ankle in a 21-0 loss at Miami on Dec. 10, has practiced more this week than in any of the past few weeks. Despite that, he said Friday he didn’t know if he’d play.

“We’ll see Sunday,” he said. “I hope I can play, especially being a playoff game, so we’ll see.”

Wilfork is the middle of an outstanding three-man defensive line and, despite his size, is athletic enough to chase down runners at the sidelines.

One end, Richard Seymour, is headed for his fifth Pro Bowl in his six NFL seasons. The other, Ty Warren, was named NFL defensive player of the month for December after being passed over for the Pro Bowl, perhaps because he’s been overshadowed by Seymour.

Warren was sidelined for one game this year, a 17-14 loss to the Jets that dropped the Patriots to 6-3.

Wilfork hurt his right ankle four weeks later early in the third quarter at Miami and the Patriots lost that game, too, 21-0. But New England won the three games he missed as Mike Wright, who signed as an undrafted free agent before last season, replaced him.

“A lot of guys doubted him, but we had no doubt,” Wilfork said. “He showed up every game, playing against one of the best centers around, Kevin Mawae.”

Facing Mawae and the Tennessee Titans last Sunday, Wright led the Patriots with nine tackles in a 40-23 win.

“I’ve been watching him growing,” Patriots backup defensive lineman Jarvis Green said. “The biggest thing is just about communication, so when he was out there, it was no different than playing with Vince.”

Except that Wilfork, 30 pounds heavier, takes up more space. That would leave Jets running back Leon Washington less room to run up the middle and would make the job of center Nick Mangold tougher.

“They have great players across the ball who have done some great things and who are doing great things right now,” Mangold said.

Until his current injury, Wilfork had played in every game since the Patriots drafted him in the first round out of Miami in 2004. He had two sacks as a rookie and was their second leading tackler last year. He’s fourth in tackles this season.

“I love to play football so it’s frustrating at times, sitting out,” he said. “So that’s why I’m hoping I can play this week.”

AP-ES-01-05-07 1805EST

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