The New England Patriots offensive line has been a topic of intense discussion recently, so it’s natural to focus this week’s list of five players of both rising and falling stocks on offensive linemen.
1. G/C Ryan Wendell
Fourth-year interior offensive lineman Ryan Wendell started the final two games of the 2011 NFL season when Dan Connolly went down with an injury, and he is on his way to becoming a starter. With Brian Waters still out for unknown reasons, Wendell has shined in training camp and performed well in the preseason opener. He has been taking first-team reps at center over veteran Dan Koppen and should be the Patriots starter in the middle of the line if Waters does not return.
2. OL Nick McDonald
Versatility is the name of the game, so simply stating Nick McDonald’s position as an “OL” is appropriate. He can play at any position on the line, although he is best at center and then at either of the guard spots. He started two games last year in weeks 13 and 14 and did a nice job coming out cold. A former UDFA, McDonald has turned into a good, versatile backup for the Patriots. Against the New Orleans Saints, he played at tackle and did a surprisingly good job there. He won’t be starting, but he’s going to get playing time and is a valuable backup to have in case of injury or to just give a guy some rest.
3. C Dan Koppen
It’s tough to give an exact call on Dan Koppen, because he’s both rising and falling. The bottom line is that he is falling, but the veteran center is also rising- in a way.
The 32-year-old is clearly not what he used to be and is a liability at this point in his career. I still love him and would hate to see him cut, but the emergence of Ryan Wendell has made Koppen expendable. Now I don’t see him being cut if Brian Waters doesn’t return, but Koppen could be cut if Waters returns.
Now the good news is that he isn’t going down easy, which is not a surprise given what we’ve seen from Koppen. He has performed at a high level recently in training camp, and he even subdued Kyle Love on multiple occasions. He’s making a push and some statements to stay on the roster, so now’s not the time to jump the gun and write off Koppen’s career with the Patriots as being “over”.
4. T Marcus Cannon
Bill Belichick is sold on the fact that Marcus Cannon can be a tackle in the NFL, ”He’s big, he’s strong, he’s in good condition [and] he’s got the feet to be able to play out there in space. It’s the position he played in college; he has a long history of playing there.”
I’m going to trust the Hoodie on this one, and Cannon’s 6’5″, 358 pound frame certainly looks great at the tackle spot. But he’s more of a run blocker than a pass protector and is still struggling there. After the struggles wear off and he gets coached up more, the upside is there for Cannon and things could click. It’s a bit of a gamble playing him at tackle with his undeveloped pass protecting, and Cannon is a safer bet at guard.
The problem is that there’s no place for him to play at guard with the position crowded. I mean, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, and Dan Connolly are three capable starting guards in the league. The Patriots problem is at tackle and for as bad as Cannon was in the preseason game, he’s still much better than the tackles behind him on the depth chart. Still, he needs to improve big-time and is struggling in practices as well. Rob Ninkovich is abusing him in practice.
5. QB Ryan Mallett
This one’s a bit too easy, but Ryan Mallett’s all-around performances have been disappointing. He has a great arm and the physical tools to be a good quarterback, but it just seems like he doesn’t get the flow of the game. That sounds cliche and a bit stupid, but it’s true. When he plays, he looks too mechanical and doesn’t have a natural feel for finding receivers. It’s why he forces throws, overthrows his man, and looks far too uncomfortable in coverage. He made some nice throws against the New Orleans Saints and has a lot of potential, but the key thing is consistency for Mallett. I thought he developed a lot over the past year, but I feel very wrong about that looking at the Saints game.
His arm strength is apparent, however, as seen by the long throws he is connecting in practice and in the preseason game. The problem is that his decision-making is still horrendous, and Mallett’s pick in double coverage to Marquis Cole yesterday in training camp exemplified that. It was like watching Josh Freeman’s 2011 highlights (just a jab, I like Freeman as a QB).
In the Patriots famous barrel drill, Mallett missed both long range strikes- they weren’t pretty, I might add- but Tom Brady also missed both. Nobody made any, but Brady did hit the barrel once.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.
Topics: Bill Belichick, Brian Waters, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Josh Freeman, Kyle Love, Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon, Marquis Cole, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Nick McDonald, Rob Ninkovich, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Wendell, Tom Brady