NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
All but two offensive linemen who took snaps for the New England Patriots in 2012 (Donald Thomas and Mitch Petrus) are currently on roster with the team in 2013, meaning that as many as seven spots on the line may already be filled. All five starters on the offensive line remain; from left to right, those players are Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Sebastian Vollmer. With the possible exception of Connolly, all will be back next season.
In addition to the returning starters, reserve tackle/guard Marcus Cannon should be a lock for the final roster, while interior swing reserve Nick McDonald’s hold on a roster spot may be more tenuous. Even if McDonald returns, the Patriots should carry at least one or two more linemen on the final 53-man roster, with a spot or two on the practice squad additionally dedicated to the positional grouping. In this article, the other eight offensive line candidates currently on roster will be considered.
OT Kevin Haslam
New England’s decision to sign Haslam may very well be connected to his Rutgers pedigree; the reserve offensive tackle went undrafted out of the university in 2010 before being signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars; he was on the field for four snaps as a rookie, allowing one sack before being placed on injured reserve. He didn’t see the field in 2011, then had a brief stint with the Oakland Raiders in 2012 before being signed by the San Diego Chargers. His most recent season was also his most relevant, as he started three games and played significantly in two others, totaling 294 snaps on the season (226 at left tackle, 68 at right tackle.)
Haslam has intriguing size at 6’5” and 304 pounds; additionally, he played every position but center while a member of the Scarlet Knights. Unfortunately, Haslam may lack the athleticism to develop into a functional player with New England; he ran a 5.62-second 40-yard dash at Rutgers’ pro day, with pedestrian times in the three-cone drill (7.75 seconds) and short shuttle (4.78 seconds.) Those deficiencies were masked to some extent in San Diego’s man-blocking scheme, but the organization evidently wasn’t confident enough in his movement skills to keep him on roster as they transition to a zone-blocking scheme.
OT Will Svitek
The thirty-one year-old Svitek entered the league as a sixth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs back in 2005, where he spent three seasons from 2005-2007, recording four starts over that span. After a year out of the league, Svitek signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2009, making two starts at left tackle, which accounted for 152 of his 273 snaps that season. In 2010, his role was reduced; he played in 121 snaps, primarily as a jumbo tight end. 2011 was Svitek’s most substantial season in the league; he replaced injured left tackle Sam Baker in week seven, starting that season’s remaining eleven games (including Atlanta’s playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers.) He played at an acceptable level over that span, allowing just three sacks while committing five penalties. Unfortunately, he spent 2012 on injured reserve with an arm injury sustained in training camp, which, combined with his age, may diminish his chances of making the roster.
Although Svitek may be slightly more effective than a player such as Haslam, it may be beneficial to New England to go with a younger player. Whereas a player such as Haslam or Markus Zusevics should be able to play offensive guard in a pinch, Svitek’s role is likely limited to a swing reserve at tackle, with the ability to line up at tight end in jumbo packages.
OT Markus Zusevics
New England was able to sign Markus Zusevics as an undrafted free agent last season after the former Iowa Hawkeyes tackle sustained a torn pectoral muscle at the 2012 NFL Combine. That resulted in Zusevics spending most of his rookie season on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list. However, he should be ready to compete for a spot as a swing reserve in 2013, as he has prototypical size for an offensive linemen at 6’5” and 300 pounds, with adequate 33” arms. With the Hawkeyes, Zusevics played right tackle, as the left tackle position was manned by eventual Detroit Lions first-round draft pick Riley Reiff; at the pro level, it’s likely that Zusevics will be relegated to the right side once again, although the potential for him to slide inside to guard exists as well.
Zusevics may not be the most mobile or powerful lineman, but having already spent one season with the organization, he may be more equipped to contribute immediately than an incoming player, which should give him an early advantage. Zusevics also possesses the best movement skills of the four veteran players in terms of securing second-level blocks, which should offer value in New England’s offense, which includes both man and zone principles.
OG Tyronne Green
Tyronne Green began his collegiate career at Auburn as a defensive tackle before converting to offensive guard, where he performed well enough as a two-year starter to be selected by the San Diego Chargers in the late fourth-round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He saw limited action over three games as a rookie in 2009 before being more heavily integrated into the offense in 2010, starting in seven of twelve games played, primarily at right guard. In 2011, Greene started another eight games, all of which were at left guard. He remained at left guard in 2012, starting all thirteen games he appeared in.
While Green doesn’t have ideal height or length, he is the most battle-tested reserve option on the roster; his value is supplemented by having played all five offensive line positions over the course of his career, albeit sparingly at any position other than offensive guard. His experience playing next to Haslam may increase the chances of seeing both players on the final roster in 2013. However, like Haslam, Green is not the most athletic guard around, having submitted a 5.40-second 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL Combine, then disappointing in the three-cone drill (8.12) and short shuttle (4.80) at Auburn’s Pro Day that March.