NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The New England Patriots are dealing with the significant loss of long time Brady blindside protector Matt Light and various injuries across the line. The Patriots foresaw a transition coming along offensive line and were proactive throughout 2011 to make sure their line play wouldn’t suffer in 2012.
How will the Patriots starting offensive line look Week One and who will make the final roster?
Current Roster (16): Marcus Cannon (OT), Dan Connolly (OG/OC), Robert Gallery (OT/OG), Kyle Hix (OT), Matt Kopa (OT), Dan Koppen (OC), Logan Mankins (OG), Nick McDonald (OG), Jamey Richard (OG/OC), Nate Solder (OT), Donald Thomas (OG), Sebastian Vollmer (OT), Jeremiah Warren (OG), Brian Waters (OG), Ryan Wendell (OG/OC), Markus Zusevics (OT)
What To Watch For: How does Nate Solder adapt to being the starting LT? Is Sebastian Vollmer over the back injury that belabored him all last season? Will Logan Mankins be ready for week one? Who will be the starting center, Dan Koppen or Dan Connolly? Will Matt Kopa or Nick McDonald, both of whom spent the majority of last season on the Practice Squad make the roster? Can Brian Waters repeat his Pro Bowl season? What kind of impact can Marcus Cannon have?
Bubble Watch: Matt Kopa (OT), Nick McDonald (OG/OC), Ryan Wendell (OG/OC), Dan Koppen (OC), Robert Gallery (OT/OG)
Who Will Make the Final 53: Marcus Cannon (OT), Dan Connolly (OG/OC), Robert Gallery (OT/OG), Dan Koppen (OC), Logan Mankins (OG), Nate Solder (OT), Sebastian Vollmer (OT), Brian Waters (OG) and Ryan Wendell (OG/OC).
Explanation and Breakdown:
The Patriots will likely keep nine offensive linemen which is standard number across the league. With such a deep and talented roster this year I don’t think it’s out of the question that they could try to get by with eight versatile linemen and stash couple of prospects on the practice squad in case injuries become a factor.
As is the case with almost every other position on the Patriots, the team looks for lineman who are versatile and can play multiple positions. Versatility and reliability will likely be the deciding factor when it comes to making the roster or not.
Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins and Brian Waters are all locks for the roster. All four of those players are considered to be the starters and have All-Pro potential. The only starting spot up for grabs on the offensive line is at center.
Does Bill Belichick decide to go back to Dan Koppen who has been steady throughout his entire career, but missed all of last season with an ankle injury? Or does Coach Belichick opt to go with Dan Connolly who has played very well the past two season while filling in for injured players? If Connolly wins the job I could see Dan Koppen being released because he has never played another position other than center.
Marcus Cannon has enough potential and versatility to warrant a roster spot. He worked hard to come back from a cancer diagnosis and has a nice future in the league. The fact that Cannon has the ability to play both OT and OG strengthens his case to be on the team. Robert Gallery, who was signed as a free agent this off-season and has long been the apple of Bill Belichick’s eye, also has a good chance to make the team. Other than Cannon, Gallery is the only other player that has played OG and OT in the NFL.
That means the 9th and final roster spot will come down to a handful of interior lineman. Ryan Wendell has been on the team since 2008 in some capacity and has filled in admirably when called upon. However, Wendell is limited in size and strength wise. He is a smart lineman who the team knows they can count on in game situations.
Don’t be surprised if Nick McDonald who spent most of last season on the practice squad, takes Wendell’s roster spot. Although he doesn’t have the same game experience as Wendell, he did get into games at the end of last season. He is younger, cheaper and offers a similar skill set.
Finally, keep an eye out for Matt Kopa who the Patriots claimed off waivers from the Dolphins during roster cuts last summer. He spent all of last season on the practice squad, but I have heard the coaching staff is very high on him.
In terms of the practice squad, Markus Zusevics (who could also be placed on I.R. due to an injury sustained at the combine) and Jeremiah Warren, both UDFA’s who the team aggresively targeted after the draft would be the leading candidates.