Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork registered arguably his finest season as a pro in 2011, and also his busiest. He played the greatest percentage of snaps in his career (86.8), and the most snaps by a single nose tackle in all of football, 957 (via NFL.com).
Conventionally, nose tackles have struggled to stay on the field as regularly as other members of the defense, given both their size (Wilfork is listed at 325 pounds) and skill set (many nose tackles are not counted on as regular pass rushers).
But Wilfork has proven over his career that he is amongst the rare nose tackles who can endure a heavy workload while remaining effective as both a run stuffer and pass rusher, which was never more evident than last season.
Another imposing interior defensive lineman, B.J. Raji of the Packers (the only nose tackle to play in 800-plus plays in each of the last two seasons), is likely facing a scaled back workload this season, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, as passed along by "Around The League" on NFL.com.
The Patriots have added talent along the defensive front this offseason, and it will be interesting to see how – if at all – Wilfork’s snaps logged change as a result of that. Because of his dynamic ability, the team may opt to lean as heavily on him in 2012 as they did in 2011, or it also seems possible they would decrease his snaps in an effort to conserve his energy over the grind of a long season.
No matter the number of snaps for Wilfork in 2012, he figures to be a central part of the Patriots defense once again.