There was a time when Vince Wilfork was viewed as a two-down nose tackle by the Patriots' coaching staff. When a third-and-long situation came up, it was commonplace to see Wilfork leaving the field in place of a sub rusher.
Those days are over. They have been for about two years now, as Wilfork stays on the field in all situations and is typically a disruptive presence.
This topic comes to light after reading ESPN.com NFC West reporter Mike Sando's blog entry on San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith. The premise of the blog entry is that few defensive linemen in the NFL have played more snaps than Smith over the last two seasons (including playoffs), but the 49ers might have to think about trimming back Smith's workload after triceps surgery this offseason.
The NFL defensive lineman who has played the most snaps over the last two seasons?
A 2012 All-Pro, Wilfork is playing at arguably the highest level of his nine-year career. He just turned 31 in November and has two years remaining on his contract.
The Patriots probably aren't at a point where they need to think of dramatically reducing Wilfork's snaps, but it's notable that no defensive lineman had more wear on his tires than Wilfork over the last two seasons.