The Patriots have officially downgraded X players to OUT in advance of Monday night's season opener in Miami.
The list includes:
T Sebastian Vollmer (back)
DL Jermaine Cunningham (groin)
WR Taylor Price (hamstring)
OL Ryan Wendell (calf)
LB Jeff Tarpinian (knee)
With Vollmer out of action, it appears that No. 17 overall pick Nate Solder will make the start at right tackle in his NFL debut. With Miami pass rusher Cameron Wake seeing a big portion of his action on the Dolphins defensive left side, the 14-sack star could be quite a challenge for the rookie out of Colorado. Solder was seen as primarily a left tackle prospect when he was drafted, but he's played both sides in the preseason. He held his own on the right side in exhibition action, but it will be an entirely different ballgame Monday night in Miami. Look for Solder to get some help from the tight end Gronkowski brothers in dealing with Wake.
Since Solder was the primary backup to both Matt Light and Vollmer, the Patriots currently only have two healthy tackles on the roster who will be active against the Dolphins. It should not be overlooked that Matt Light had offseason shoulder surgery and began training camp on PUP. He's shown no physical issues since being removed from PUP and playing in the preseason, but New England can ill afford for either Light or Solder to get banged up with guard Dan Connolly as the only backup offensive lineman.
Cunningham's absence isn't quite as critical as it might have been last season. The second-year player has missed a ton of time this preseason and the summer editions of Shaun Ellis, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson to man the end spot in the new 4-3 front has made Cunningham, even when healthy, more of a rotational option than the expected starter we all had him billed as earlier this offseason.
Price being inactive is a disappointing start to what many (read: me) had hoped would be his breakout second season. After a red-shirt year as a rookie in which he played in just the season finale as he struggled to grasp the New England offense, Price has a 100-yard effort in the preseason opener and looked well on his way to adding his name to the mix of playmakers at Tom Brady's disposal. He'd even gotten plenty of run with the first team in training camp and preseason action, replacing Chad Ochocinco on occasion. But now dealing with the hamstring issue, Price begins 2011 the same way he spent 15 weeks last fall – as a day of game inactive. At least this time it's due to injury.
Wendell's absence hurts New England's interior offensive line depth and overall backup depth on the line. But with Brian Waters potentially making his first start in New England and Connolly apparently prepared to play despite being limited in practice with a foot injury the interior line isn't nearly as thin as the tackle spot.