Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots center Ryan Wendell (62) walks off the field after losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
(This is the third entry into a seven part series that will grade the players from the 2012 season).
When Matt Light retired from the game of football in 2011, the left tackle position became a position of concern for the first time in New England in a long time. Light had protected Tom Brady’s blindside for Brady’s entire career, and there was a lot of concern when he stepped away from the game. However, Nate Solder came in and really put all of those concerns to bed. Solder had a great 2012 season in terms of protecting Brady and paving paths for Stevan Ridley and the running backs. Solder is a giant guy as he stands at 6’9 and he really knows how to use his height to his advantage. He rarely gets pushed back by smaller defensive ends, and that shows how much work Solder has put into learning how to play left tackle. Left tackle is the second most important position on an offense, and the Patriots are in good hands with Solder anchoring the offensive line.
As good as Solder is, I think that Vollmer is better. In my opinion the Pats have the best combo of offensive tackles in the NFL. Vollmer is a great run blocker and he is even better as a pass blocker. Just like Solder, he is a big guy as he stands at 6’8 and just like Solder he is great at using his height to his advantage. He has had some back issues and that has prevented him from playing all 16 games of the season, but when he is healthy he is one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL.
The one word that comes to mind when you think about Logan Mankins is ‘tough’. This guy is probably the toughest guy in the NFL. He played the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL and he played the Super Bowl with two torn ACL’s. That is just insane. You combine this with the fact that he is a very talented interior lineman, and you get one of the best lineman in the league. His specialty is playing “nasty”, but when you really watch him play, he is actually extremely technically sound. He is a great run blocker, and he rarely lets anybody get near his quarterback. He had a bit of a down year in 2012 because of some injuries, but a down year for him is still a very good year.
Wendell was easily the biggest surprise along the offensive line during the 2012 season for the Pats. Wendell was great as he stepped in at center for Dan Connolly who moved to right guard. Throughout the 2012 season, I think I may have heard Ryan Wendell’s name a total of five times. That shows that Wendell rarely got beat for a sack or a bad running play. I think that Wendell was easily the most underrated part of the Patriots offense in 2012 and I really wish he received more recognition for his season.
Connolly had to take Brian Waters’ spot at right guard for the 2012 season, and while he did a good job there he just wasn’t nearly as effective as the rest of his offensive line. Connolly had a great 2011 season at center and then he was forced to move to right guard and his play definitely slipped a little bit. He did have a back issue that bothered him throughout the year and forced him to miss a couple of games. Even when he was healthy, Connolly was definitely the weakest link along the offensive line for New England.
Because of injuries to Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, Thomas received a lot of playing time throughout the year and he really responded. I think that if he had been on pretty much any other team other than the Pats, he would have been a starting guard. Thomas is a great run blocker, and he showed that he is very talented in the pass protection department.
Like Thomas, McDonald got some playing time last season because guards Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly both missed time because of injury. While McDonald didn’t play quite as well as Thomas, he showed that he is a very capable backup as an interior lineman.
Cannon started only one game for the Pats in 2012 and it was the thanksgiving massacre of the New York Jets. He played great in that game and even though it was the Jets, he showed that he has the capability to be a starting offensive lineman in the NFL.