FOXBORO - The leaders in the clubhouse for the starting defensive tackle positions with the New England Patriots, at least on paper, are a multi-year Pro Bowl participant, a veteran with nearly a decade's experience with the Oakland Raiders, and a promising first-round draft pick.
There doesn't seem to be much room for Sealver Siliga with the likes of Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Dominique Easley competing for spots atop the depth chart. But it takes performance, and not merely reputations, to win jobs in the NFL - and Siliga has already put forth a compelling argument to keep his job and possibly expand his role.
"It's just opportunity," the third-year veteran from Utah said after a recent training camp practice. "I got lucky, and I got lucky enough to be put in the situation I was put in. So maybe it was the right place, right time. I learned from the teachings that Bill (Belichick) gave me, and I just went out and executed what he told me to do."
Siliga, 24, was signed from the practice squad to the regular-season roster last Nov. 27 after previous stops in San Francisco, Denver and Seattle and a stint on the Patriots' practice squad that started in October. With Wilfork and Kelly both on the injured reserve list and the Patriots desperately searching for some push among their replacements, Siliga started four of his five regular-season games and both playoff games and made a noticeable impact.
He had 21 regular-season tackles (14 solo) and three sacks, and added eight more tackles in the postseason, and his work ethic and execution earned the respect of the coaching staff.
"It was just listening to the teachings that my coaches gave me my whole career and especially over here," Siliga said. "Coach Belichick has really helped me out and helped me to excel to getting my technique to where it's supposed to be, and when I did get the opportunity, I knew the technique I knew I had to do to win some of the blocks I was getting."
Siliga said he also got a lot of instruction from Wilfork and Kelly even though both were injured and no longer able to contribute on the field.
"Especially for a young guy like me, I can learn from older guys, guys that have been through the league and guys that have been doing their thing for 10-plus years," he said. "All I can do is just sit here like a sponge and just soak in everything. Everything they do, I just watch them. When we're watching film, I watch them, the techniques they throw out, the techniques they do. I watch Vince. I watch TK. I watch Will (Smith). I watch those guys and I just take pieces from them and I try to do it every day."
But by no means does Siliga feel confident that his job is secure. He also has to battle with young veterans Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, who were also picked up off the street after Wilfork and Kelly went down a year ago.
"The time I felt comfortable, I got cut," he said. "As you know, I've been around. So I don't ever let myself feel comfortable because the time I just start feeling comfortable is the time I see the blackout."
Siliga admitted that getting the call from the Patriots was a blessing after the disappointment of being in three other camps without success.
"It never feels good to get tossed around like that," he said, "but it's one of those things where I've just got to take it one day at a time. I can't control that. All I can control is how hard I work and what I do. End of the day it was just me taking it one day at a time and not looking forward and not looking back and just focusing on the present time."
Patience, however, is a virtue for the native of West Jordan, Utah. He was the youngest in a family of 11 children (since grown to 12) and the first born in Utah after the family moved from California.
His upbringing was difficult, and some of his brothers became involved in gangs in California before the move to a different environment. But he said that the issues that plagued some of his brothers have not lessened his love for them.
"One brother is a kickboxer, and I've got one brother that's a mechanic, and they're doing good for themselves," he said. "I've got one brother that's in prison and one that passed away."
"I grew up in Salt Lake City," he added. "So it was a whole different scene. I grew up in a different way, the opposite of my brothers. Learning from my older brothers, they did this and I did the opposite."