Roster Analysis: Offensive line
Offensive line: T/G Marcus Cannon, 2nd year; G/C Dan Connolly, 7th year; G/T Robert Gallery, 9th year; T Kyle Hix, 1st year; T Matt Kopa, 1st year; C Dan Koppen, 10th year; G Logan Mankins, 8th year; C Nick McDonald, 3rd year; OL Jon Opperud, rookie; C/G Jamey Richard, 5th year; T Nate Solder, 2nd year; G/C Donald Thomas, 5th year; T Sebastian Vollmer, 4th year; OL Jeremiah Warren, rookie; G Brian Waters, 13th year; C/G Ryan Wendell, 4th year; T Markus Zusevics, rookie
One of the positions for the Patriots that seems to be generating a great deal of concern heading into the summer is offensive line. The team lost veteran stalwart Matt Light to retirement, is dealing with the possibility of another veteran calling it quits in Brian Waters and has two projected starters –Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer – currently nursing injuries.
For those reasons many Patriots watchers have offensive line at or near the top of their worried lists. I am not one of them.
Sure, all of the above comments are factual. Light will not be back, and despite several reports that indicate Waters intends to return for a 13th NFL season, there is no guarantee that will be the case. And Mankins (coming off a torn ACL) and Vollmer (back and foot injuries limited him to six games in 2011) are certainly banged up.
But despite all that there is still plenty of talent for long-time O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia to deal with. In truth, Scarnecchia's presence has more than a little to do with the overall level of comfort with the current state. Years of experience watching him patch together less-talented players into serviceable units tends to add to the confidence level of onlookers. Last year alone the Patriots were forced to start four different centers and barely had an errant snap let alone a bevy of breakdowns that in any way affected the offense.
So, until proven otherwise, Scarnecchia and his offensive line get and deserve the benefit of the doubt.
But there is also plenty of depth here to calm fears of pending disaster. Assuming everything goes to form, Tom Brady will likely open the season with Nate Solder at left tackle next to Mankins with either Dan Koppen orDan Connolly at center, Waters at right guard and Vollmer at right tackle. If Waters doesn't return, Connolly would play right guard, a spot he's ably manned often in the past in place of Stephen Neal.
If Mankins' knee isn't quite ready to open the season (he hasn't been on the field for the organized team activities the media has seen), free agent newcomer Robert Gallery could slide in, or Ryan Wendell, who has starting experience at guard, could fill the void.
Gallery could factor into the mix on the outside as well in the event that Vollmer isn't physically up to par. He's played plenty of right tackle during his career, and second-year man Marcus Cannon saw lots of action there as a rookie as well. Cannon would likely be the first option given his familiarity with the system and experience playing right tackle a year ago.
In addition, Matt Kopa spent the entire 2011 season on the practice squad. Offensive linemen who last that long generally do so because they've shown enough development and potential to excite the coaching staff. Kopa could be a dark horse to provide depth at tackle or guard depending on how Scarnecchia deems he fits best.
Donald Thomas (one start) appeared in 10 games last season and Nick McDonald (two starts) saw action in four. Both are available to add depth should injuries continue during the course of the season. All together that's nine players with starting NFL experience who should be in the fold at the start of training camp, and that doesn't include recently signedJamey Richard, who started 11 games at guard and center for the Colts over the past four seasons. It would be hard to imagine many NFL teams boasting more than that.
While the roster spots figure to come from some variation of the above group the Patriots will have a handful of others vying to stick around. Kyle Hix spent 2011 on injured reserve after suffering a shoulder injury in training camp. The tackle out of Texas returns and will fight it out with rookies Markus Zusevics, Jon Opperud andJeremiah Warren for possible roster spots.