As we slowly approach the beginning of the 2014 season, all areas of the Pats roster must be dissected, even the “non-sexy” ones.
So when talking about the offensive line, I think there is one main issue that New England will be facing come September, which is the interior of the offensive line. This group isn’t in shambles, but it isn’t stable either.
Ryan Wendell is a fine center. In 2012, he had one hell of a season. Despite being a bit undersized, he makes up for it in toughness, and sound technique. However in the NFL, eventually a lack of size will catch up to you. Wendell is only 300 pounds, which allows opposing defensive tackles to push him back, effectively disrupting Tom Brady‘s offense. I don’t know if rookie Bryan Stork will be able to beat out Wendell this year, but it will be a hell of a competition, and the future may lie in Stork’s hands. I like Wendell, but I doubt he will have a starting job in a few years. You just can’t out-run physical traits in a league like this, and unfortunately, Wendell hasn’t been blessed with those gifts.
The bigger issue in my mind, is right guard Dan Connolly. His cap hit in 2014 will be just over $4 million, which is just insane. His level of play has dropped off even more than Wendell’s has, and he is making even more money. Now, I’m not sure if I would be comfortable inserting rookie Jon Halapio into the starting lineup, but having him there should definitely keep Connolly alert.
One other idea would be to slide Marcus Cannon inside to guard. If tackle Sebastian Vollmer comes back healthy, New England can afford to put Cannon inside. If Vollmer goes down again, they can always bring Cannon back to the tackle position, or give rookie Cameron Fleming a shot. It would be a riskier move, but Bill Belichick could even give Fleming a shot on the inside, although since he has never played there, it could be hard for him to adjust.
Overall, I think that Belichick and company will be able to keep the middle of the offensive line in check for 2014. Whether it is by trusting the veterans to get it done for one more year, or inserting a few rookies in (or a combination), this group has enough depth to keep Tom Brady upright this season. Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, and Jon Halapio will all be competing come training camp, and if I were Ryan Wendell, and Dan Connolly, I would be scared of those young guns.
There shouldn’t be any worries regarding the offensive tackles, as that is one area where the Pats excel in. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are two of the best tackles this league has to offer, and when healthy, they may be the best duo in the NFL. Vollmer did suffer a nasty leg injury in 2013, but hopefully he will be able to return, and begin dominating opponents once again.