A couple of surprising moves announced today by the Patriots, on what was supposed to be a quiet, off-day from practice: the sudden retirement of o-lineman Robert Gallery, and the departure (for now, reportedly) of fullback Tony Fiammetta.
First, to put this into historical context, Gallery's retirement resurrects what was once a training camp "tradition" for the Patriots, who saw at least one offensive lineman call it quits in camp each summer for several years running during the beginning of Bill Belichick's tenure here in New England.
Second, and more importantly, of course, Gallery's about-face deals a depth blow to New England's offensive line. He was a massive presence at 6-7, 320 — a guard in a tackle's body — and while he never lived up to his second-overall-pick potential in previous stops in Oakland and Seattle, the experienced veteran of eight NFL seasons was seen as an insurance policy this season for a banged up and transitioning Patriots o-line.
So, now that Gallery won't be suiting up for a ninth pro season, the task of backing up all-star Logan Mankins, which he had been doing seemingly well to this point, now falls to less experienced players like Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, or the fresh-of-PUP Nick McDonald, to name a few (all of them contributed significantly last year). But Gallery was also believed to be a potential tackle here, and the Patriots are already somewhat thin in that area.
By no means should this move be a reason to panic, however. Remember, we're only entering the second week of camp, and haven't yet played one preseason game. Mankins and incumbent right tackle Sebastian Vollmer haven't yet suited up, but they've been present at every practice in a rehab capacity. That leads me to believe both could be ready to go by opening day, at the latest. And Brian Waters, the Pro Bowl right guard from a year ago, still hasn't reported, but that doesn't mean he won't (he was only brought in the week before the opener last season, and that turned out pretty well).
What's more, position coach Dante Scarnecchia has done more with less enough times in the past that I'm confident he'll guide his troops through these latest challenging circumstances. But just to be safe, for the time being, perhaps we won't see a whole lot of Tom Brady under center in the exhibition games coming up this month… or at least until this situation sorts itself out.
Meanwhile, Fiammetta, according to our friend/colleague Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com, abruptly left to deal with a family crisis and hopes to return to the team next season. To fill the two open spots on the roster, New England added another fullback, veteran Kareem Huggins (played two seasons in Tampa, 2009-10, but was out of football last season), and journeyman defensive back Derrick Martin.
Concerned about the New England offensive line at this point? As always, share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment below.