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Compared to years past, 2013 was a rocky season for the Patriot’s offensive line. Tom Brady was sacked a near career-high 40 times last season. While part of that can be attributed to Brady’s lack of faith in some of his young receivers, but there’s no doubt that the offensive line must step up in 2014.
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The unit did pave the way for another potent ground-attack, and received heavy praise for its role in the emergence of LeGarrette Blount late in the season.
Health could play a huge role in the unit’s improvement this season. Sebastian Vollmer’s campaign ended pre-maturely a year ago, and Nate Solder missed time which even forced Logan Mankins to start a game at tackle. A season with no major injuries should be all the team needs to lower Brady’s sack totals, and maintain success on the ground, without Blount.
Longtime o-line czar Dante Scarnecchia retired in the off-season, and the unit will now be led by ex-Jets assistant Dave DeGuglielmo. Offensive line was a major focus in the draft for the first time since 2011. Coach Belichick and the front office used fourth round picks on Florida State center Bryan Stork and Stanford tackle Cameron Fleming, as well as a sixth round pick on Florida guard Jon Halapio.
There’s plenty of competition along the offensive line entering training camp. Stork enters camp in an immediate battle for the starting job with incumbent center Ryan Wendell. The right guard spot will also be up for grabs with Dan Connolly defending his starting spot against the likes of Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, and Halapio.
The three rookies along with Solder, Vollmer, Mankins, and Cannon should be considered the only locks to make the team entering camp. Wendell will likely only make the team should he win the starting job over Stork, but I think that Stork will have to really under-perform in camp for that to happen.
Connolly offers value should he lose his starting job, as he can fill in at both guard and center, and he could even be thrust into that battle for the starting center spot. Second-year man Josh Kline is a good bet to make the team, as he showed a lot of promise in 2013.
Guards Braxton Cave and Chris Barker are longshots to make the opening week roster, as are tackles Jordan Devey and Chris Martin.
In the end, look for the Pats to carry nine offensive linemen into their opening game against Miami. Those nine will be Solder, Mankins, Stork, Cannon, Vollmer, Connolly, Kline, Halapio, and Fleming.
The Patriots will need a championship caliber offensive line in order to achieve their goal of hoisting a fourth Lombardi Trophy in Glendale, Arizona on February 1st.
Protecting Tom Brady is going to be crucial to getting out of the AFC. Denver added DeMarcus Ware in the off-season, and teams such as the Bengals and Jets will also pose formidable pass-rushes along the way.
Barring major injuries, this unit should be much improved this season. Expect another solid campaign on the ground, and a reduction in sacks allowed. While no major additions were added this off-season, the added depth should help strengthen the unit, and ultimately pave the way to a fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Tags: 2014 Patriots Preview, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Dan Connolly, Dante Scarnecchia, Dave DeGuglielmo, Jon Halapio, Josh Kline, Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, ryan wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Tom Brady, Training Camp