- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Gerard Warren had answered only one question from a reporter when the booming voice of Vince Wilfork interrupted the proceedings from afar. Without hesitation, Warren turned and rushed towards the stands where the rest of the defensive linemen were signing autographs after a morning session Friday at Patriots training camp.
Warren, a veteran of 10 NFL seasons with gray whiskers on his beard, is no rookie, but he looks a bit the role when it comes to Wilfork. There's an immediate and unmistakable bond between the two players, and Warren has attached himself to Wilfork's hip throughout the early stages of camp.
"Hey man, it's just a Florida thing. You know what I mean?" said Warren, the Southern charm rushing through his bass-filled voice. "Just naturally, we gravitated towards each other. I have a lot of respect for him and he's got respect for me. So, of course, to be here, it's an opportunity to play with him."
A former first-round pick (third overall in the 2001 draft) of the Cleveland Browns, Warren signed with New England as an unrestricted free agent this offseason after three seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
With 295 tackles, 32 sacks and 127 career starts, Warren is expected to compete for a starting role along the defensive line, potentially at a right defensive end spot, which was a glaring weakness for New England last season after the team traded Richard Seymour to Warren's last stop in Oakland.
During Friday's morning session, Warren spent quality time as nose tackle in the Patriots' 3-4 alignment, bumping Wilfork to right defensive end in a look the team flirted with at times last season when opponents aggressively ran at that side of the line.
For his part, Warren said he doesn't have a preference as a tackle or end and hopes his versatility can allow New England to offer different defensive looks.
"Just on the field contributing," Warren said when asked his preferred position. "That's the way we view it up front. [Versatility] means a whole lot more combinations for us if we can play different positions on the line."
Officially signed amid the draft in April, Patriots coach Bill Belichick previously noted the flexibility Warren provides.
"He's played all over," Belichick said in April. "He's played for the Raiders; he's played three technique; he's played one technique. For the Browns, he was an inside player. He usually played inside the tackles. In Denver, they moved him around a little bit as well. So I think that he's a guy that can really play from the tackle in.
"Like Damione Lewis, Ty Warren and Vince, guys like that, I don't think you're going to see him outside of the tackles very often. But from tackle to tackle, I think they can play from head-up-to-tackle to head-up-to-center and all of the spots in between. They've all done that. So he definitely has some versatility from both the left side and the right side, and in different alignments in there, and on both early downs and on passing downs -- as Damione has, as Vince has. So think there's some versatility with players like that."
At the time, Belichick reflected on the 2001 draft, noting that Warren, Seymour (sixth overall), and Lewis (12th overall) were all selected high that year, and within one calendar year, all three had been a part of the Patriots organization.
Now Warren could be the key to shoring up a line left weakened after Seymour's departure.
While noting some of his previous stops utilized 3-4 looks, he didn't hide the fact that New England's defense is radically different to what he's been immersed in so far.
"Completely new," Warren said, repeating it for emphasis and noting it's different when working from a 3-4 base than just using it as a defensive wrinkle on a 4-3 team.
Asked about the hardest adjustments, he pointed to communication and technique. Which is why he's gravitated to Wilfork so quickly. He knows the importance of forging an immediate bond. And it doesn't hurt to learn from a two-time Pro Bowler regarded as one of the best nose tackles in the game.
"Just being able to kind of pick his brain," Warren said. "See how he made his adaptations and adjustments as fast as he did, and to be as successful as he is."
Warren, a University of Florida product, doesn't even hold the fact that Wilfork is a University of Miami guy against him. No, Warren has plenty of support on a roster filled with Gators, including a trio of rookies in defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, tight end Aaron Hernandez and linebacker Brandon Spikes. Warren smiled when asked whether he noticed the younger players doing the Gator Chomp during camp Thursday.
"Hey man, it's Gator Nation," a smiling Warren said.
Yes, it's just a Florida thing.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com who's checking in from Patriots training camp this week. Follow him on Twitter.
The Patriots are hoping Gerard Warren can make an impact on the D-line.