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The Patriots offense has always been a consistently feared element of the team. With a Hall of Fame quarterback behind center, the offense has ranked in the top five for total offense five out of the last six seasons. The running game last season dramatically improved behind the legs of running back Stevan Ridley.
However, the success of the passing and running game would not be possible without the help of one of the most underrated, least glorified but important positions in all of football.
The offensive line has played a silent but major role in the success of the Patriots offense for the past several years. The primarily job of the offensive line is to protect one of the most prized possessions in all of New England, quarterback Tom Brady.
Just this past season, the line kept Brady on his feet by allowing only 27 sacks in the regular season, tied for fifth in the league. The line not only kept Brady off his behind but was responsible for allowing time for plays to develop and developing holes for Ridley. The Patriots also had a league-leading 25 touchdowns from the ground last season. The success of Brady and the running game can be credited in large part to the success of the solid offensive line.
With so many changes to the team due to factors such as free agency, the continuity of the offensive line will be a major advantage or the Patriots. The line will be returning all five starters from last season while adding depth and versatility with players such as Marcus Cannon. Here’s a look at the most under appreciated men on the Patriots:
LT Nate Solder: As Brady’s blindside protection, Solder has one of the most important jobs on offense. He adjusted very well last season with the pressure of replacing Matt Light at left tackle, who retired before the start of the season. Standing in at 6’8” and 319 pounds, the converted tight end from college has a rare physical build and agility that has made him am impossible player to ignore. However, there is still room for improvement. Last season, Solder allowed 28 hurries as opposed to the national average of 15 hurries but only allowed two sacks all season.
G Logan Mankins: The All-Pro guard is a five-time Pro Bowler and one of the top players in the game in his position. The second highest paid guard in the league will be entering his ninth season and will make protecting Brady his top priority. The anchor of the offensive line will also help produce an even more efficient running game. Expect another Pro Bowl season from the veteran.
T Sebastian Vollmer:Vollmer agreed to a four-year deal in the offseason but is coming off right knee arthroscopy. The reliable Vollmer started all but one game last season but has missed games in previous games due to injuries. When healthy, Vollmer is a threat on the line as he allowed just one sack and 14 quarterback pressures through the first ten games of the 2012 season. However, with the knee problems, Vollmer’s production declined down the stretch and after missing week 12, he allowed two sacks in a game for the first time in his career.
C Ryan Wendell: Before the start of the 2012 season, Wendall beat out longtime Patriot center Dan Koppen for the starting position. During the 2012 season, Wendall proved his durability by playing 1,379 snaps, the most of any player.
OL Dan Connolly: Best known for his offensive lineman record setting 71 yard kickoff return in 2010 against the Packers, Connolly is coming off a right shoulder surgery. He started 16 of 18 games last season but there are concerns about his run and pass blocking abilities. This may be his job to loose with Marcus Cannon competing on his heels for the starting position, especially since he has been limited in training camp.
OL Marcus Cannon: Entering his third year, the right tackle will be battling for the right guard position with Dan Connolly. He dropped to the fifth round of the 2011 draft because he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The 6’5”, 358 pound player can contribute to the vastly improving running game and has had a strong training camp.
T Will Svitek: The veteran has experience playing both guard and tackle but spent the entire 2012 season with the Falcons on Injured Reserve due to an arm injury.
T Kevin Haslam: Made three starts for the Chargers at left tackle last season without much effectiveness.
G Tyronne Green: Has taken snaps at center and tackle during training camp but also has experience at both right and left guard. He started 13 games at right guard for the Chargers last season. This ability to adjust could make him beneficial to the offense.
OL Markus Zusevics: The right tackle from Iowa spent his rookie season on the non-football injury list after tearing his pectoral at the Combine.
OL Luke Patterson:Patterson is a converted defensive lineman out of Texas A&M who has had brief stints with the Kansas City Chiefs.
OL Chris McDonald: Brother of former Patriot lineman Nick McDonald, the undrafted free agent from Michigan State possesses versatility could benefit the offensive line. He played most of his college career as a right guard.
OL Matt Stankiewitch: Stankiewitch played under former Patriot’s offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien at Penn State so he is already familiar with some of the Patriot systems, giving him the upper-hand in this position battle.
OL Josh Kline: The guard from Kent State has versatility having played right tackle and both right and left guard in college.
OL R.J. Mattes: Mattes is a rookie out of North Carolina State who was named the No. 21 offensive tackle in the nation by ESPN. He missed part of the 2012 season due to foot surgery.
OL Brice Schawb: Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, Schawb has been brought in to add depth to a battered offensive line.
Tags: 2013 Patriots Preview, Brice Schawb, Chris McDonald, Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Kevin Haslam, Logan Mankins, Luke Patterson, Marcus Cannon, Marcus Zusevics, Matt Stankiewitch, Nate Solder, R.J. Mattes, ryan wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Tyronne Green, Will Svitek