1. INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE:
Jan 6, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Florida State Seminoles offensive linesman Bryan Stork (52) celebrates after the 2014 BCS National Championship game against the Auburn Tigers at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Logan Mankins appears to be a lock at left guard but nothing is ever certain with veterans in New England. Short of an amazing performance in camp by sixth-round draft pick Jon Halapio or second year guard Josh Kline to bump Mankins out of the equation he should be safe. However, veteran right guard Dan Connolly and center Ryan Wendell both face stiff competition in training camp.
Both Connolly and Wendell were weak links in 2013 in pass protection. They allowed a combined 51 quarterback hurries, 19 quarterback hits, and 9 sacks (per ProFootballFocus.com (PFF)–subscription required). In fact, Connolly was ranked by PFF as the fifth-worst offensive guard in pass protection while Wendell was rated the worst pass blocking center in the entire NFL last year. While quarterback Tom Brady often got rid of the ball while under pressure up the middle, it certainly helped contribute to the offense stalling out.
Connolly will face competition from both Kline–who performed well at left guard filling in for a game and a half last year–and from Halapio. In addition, backup tackle Marcus Cannon has experience at guard and could be added to the mix. Wendell faces a direct challenge from fourth-round draft pick center Bryan Stork. Wendell’s contract this offseason makes it easier to let him go with only an $850,000 in dead money on the salary cap if released (per OverTheCap.com). Connolly is actually the 9th highest paid Patriot in terms of cap number ($4.083 million) and with a $3 million cap savings if released could have a target squarely on him this training camp.