Last summer, there were more question marks on the Patriots offensive line than on the Riddler's jacket.
Injuries (e.g., Matt Light, Stephen Neal) and off-the-field troubles (i.e., Nick Kaczur) were to blame. But by the end of the 2008 season, the group was once again one of the most consistent and productive on the team.
Previous-year Pro Bowlers Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppeneach started all 16 games at left tackle, left guard, and center, respectively. Neal, after coming off the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list in Week 7 against Denver, played as a substitute for his first two games, then assumed his starting role at right guard for the remainder of the season. Kaczur missed back-to-back contests against Denver and St. Louis, but otherwise was reliable in his spot at right tackle.
Backups Russ Hochstein, Mark LeVoir, and Billy Yatesperformed admirably in the 37 combined games in which they played. Yates started the first seven games of the season in place of Neal, while LeVoir started in Kaczur's place for the two games he missed. He also replaced Light and Kaczur at various points when they went out with injuries during games.
And what more can be said about Hochstein than has already been stated by head coach Bill Belichickand former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Both raved about the play of guard/center Hochstein, who started the final two games of the season – at fullback and h-back (the hybrid blocking tight end-fullback position), in addition to his substitution work along the o-line throughout the season.
Veteran tackleWesley Brittalso contributed in two games, but Dan Connolly, a guard who's been on and off the roster the past couple of seasons, was inactive for seven of the eight games in which he was on the team.
The remaining linemen on the roster at season's end were guard Ryan Wendell, who was a member of the practice squad, and veterans Ryan O'Callaghanand Barry Stokes. Both O'Callaghan and Stokes were placed on injured reserve in August and were thus unavailable to the team for the entire season.
Of this group, only Hochstein, Britt, and Stokes are scheduled to become free agents next month. After '09, however, the contracts of seven linemen (Connolly, Kaczur, LeVoir, Mankins, Neal, O'Callaghan, and Yates) will expire. Light is signed through '10. Koppen and Wendell's deals run through '11.
As always, the Patriots seem to have an experienced group of versatile offensive linemen. That said, the team will probably look to add some depth via free agency and/or the draft.
THE O-LINE ROSTER
(players listed alphabetically, as of January 2009)
65 - Wesley Britt - T
63 - Dan Connolly - G/C
71 - Russ Hochstein - G/C
77 - Nick Kaczur - T
67 - Dan Koppen - C
64 - Mark LeVoir - T
72 - Matt Light - T
70 - Logan Mankins - G
61 - Stephen Neal - G
68 - Ryan O'Callaghan - T
75 - Barry Stokes - OL
69 - Ryan Wendell - G
74 - Billy Yates - G
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: defensive line, coming Thursday, January 15.