If you are a long-time fan of the Pats, or even an intermediate-time fan, you should be a little nervous about the offensive line. The only offensive line coach many fans have known has taken his silver mane a gone into retirement. I don’t think it can be overstated how much Dante Scarnecchia’s ability to squeeze every ounce of ability out of the sometimes motley crew he was assigned.
Think about it, was there a time when the offensive line was ever a real concern? In 2010, the second best offensive lineman in franchise history (and the toughest by a wide margin- Logan Mankins) held out until early November and the Patriots were 6-1 without him. Was anybody concerned about the line? Certainly at first, but the next guy up was Dan Connelly. That is how the Pats operated under Scarnecchia- hopefully, it’s how they operate under new offensive line coach Dave DeGugliemo.
Mankins is an absolute beast. It appears that on every play he is agitated with every opponent within spitting distance. Mankins appeared hurt at the end of the year, but he still performed at a very high level. It should be assumed that the Pats would get their money’s worth out of the last three years of Mankin’s contract. At that point, he will be 35 years old and probably ready to head back to his ranch in California.
Beyond Mankins the line consists of Nate Solder at Left Tackle, Ryan Wendell at Center, Dan Connolly at Right Guard, and Sebastian Vollmer at Right Tackle. Swiss Army Knife Marcus Cannon is the replacement-in-waiting if anybody is injured. Josh Kline and Chris Barker are the spare, in case of emergency break glass, linemen.
Solder, who is entering year four of what should be a five-year rookie deal, does about a B+ job of protecting TB12’s blind side. It seems as if speed rushers (see Wake, Cameron) give him fits and require the offense to keep a TE close to chip and help.
Connolly and Wendell are products of the Scarnecchia laboratory. Connolly, an undrafted Jacksonville castoff came through the Patriots practice squad to become a valuable starter at both guard and center. Wendell, who has been signed and released by the Pats several times, comes from the Fresno State pipeline. Wendell’s persistence and ability to improve were rewarded when he signed a two-year, $3.25 million contract this offseason.
Vollmer suffered a scream out loud, season ending injury when Randy Starks rolled up his leg when Vollmer was blocking of a simple run play. Unfortunately, this was not the first injury Vollmer has suffered. The uncertainty of the leg, along with his past back woes, makes Vollmer a definite question mark to make it through a full season healthy.
This brings us to Marcus Cannon, the Odessa Texas product and cancer survivor, is maybe the most important backup lineman in the NFL. Cannon’s versatility (he can play both guard and tackle with equal aptitude), and with the injury history of Vollmer means almost assuredly, that Cannon will see significant playing time for the Patriots. Cannon is the epitome of a value pick. Because he was diagnosed with cancer at the combine, teams shied away from him, so he fell to the fifth round. The Patriots took the small gamble and it has paid off.
Free Agent Still Left- If Travelle Wharton doesn’t decide to retire, he would be an excellent, Brian Waters-type, acquisition. He would be a steady presence who could fill in. Some times it seems that older guys simply don’t ant to get hit, or hit, any more. If Wharton is in that position, maybe the Pats can limit his snaps and squeeze the last ounces of heart and hustle out of him.
Player they could draft- Michael Schofield, Michigan, Scholefield is one of those guys for whom football comes first. He is an uber-competitor, who is also mammoth. He started at both guard and tackle, another plus. A guy like this could be had late in round four- possibly with the compensatory pick the Patriots have gained (#140).