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The offensive line has been a constant strong point throughout the Brady-Belichick era, and this year should be no different. With a lot of familiar faces returning, lets take a look at the 2011 New England Patriots offensive lineman.
With this historically hectic off-season in full swing, and big names like Logan Mankins, Chad Ochocinco, Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis either coming to the Patriots for the first time, or resigning with the organization, the Matt Light resigning went a little under the radar.
But make no mistake about it, The two-year $12 million deal ($7 million guaranteed) to bring back Light was incredibly important. When you have a team like the Patriots, a team that is so close to another championship, you just cant have the most important position on a offensive line being patrolled by a rookie. This isn’t a knock on Nate Solder, but to expect him to play left tackle in the NFL as a rookie at a championship level was never realistic, and it wouldn’t have been fair to him or the team.
Thankfully, Light is back and that is all you really have to say about him. He’s been a New England Patriot for a very long time, and while he can be overpowered by bigger pass rushers from time to time, he is a very steady left tackle, and has shown the ability to play that position at a all-pro level.
Logan Mankins is a stud. He is arguably the best left guard in the entire league, and one position (along with quarterback) that the Patriots don’t need to worry about coming into this season. On Wednesday, Mankins and the Patriots agreed to a six-year contract extension, which is fantastic news considering the reported bad blood between Mankins and the organization over the last year.
Dan Koppen, like Light and Mankins, has been a part of this Patriots offensive line for a long time. As the starting center, he’ll be touching the ball on just about every offensive down this season, and that’s a good thing. Tom Brady is the kind of quarterback who relies heavily on changing the play at the line of scrimmage, and disguising snap counts to catch the defense off guard.
This is possible because of how much he trusts guys like Koppen to deliver a snap at the right time, and the fact that we hardly ever hear his name called over the course of the game is a good thing when your talking about a center.
Dan Connolly is currently pegged as the starting right guard for the Patriots this season, but that is something I could see changing at some point. Connolly has been a steady part of the Patriots offensive line since 2008, with his biggest asset being his versatility. He has shown the ability to play just about every offensive line position, with his biggest contribution coming last season where he filled in well for Mankins while he was sitting out due to his contract issues. He can be a good lineman for stretches, but he is a guy who could get exposed as the season goes on.
Sebastian Vollmer is one of the few lineman on this team that still has room to grow. He was extremely solid last season at right tackle. And having only been in the league for two years, the Patriots are expecting a lot from him this season. He is the youngest member of this projected starting line, and with Mankins signed long-term the future of this teams offensive line with Vollmer, Mankins and Solder is very bright.
The Patriots are fortunate to have rookie Solder (17th overall) as a backup lineman who could play a couple different spots on the line if needed. Long-term, the Patriots view him as a Light replacement, but I could see him giving a guy like Connolly a good competition in camp for the right guard spot, and if someone goes down with an injury Solder could become a key part of this team this season.
Along with Solder, the Patriots also have a few other adequate backups in Mark LeVoir and Ryan Wendell. With deep depth including guys like Rich Ohrnberger, Thomas Austin, Chris Morris, Corey Woods, Jonathan Compas, Marcus Cannon, and Steve Maneri, but many of those lineman will probably be practice roster players or get cut by the end of training camp.