New England Patriots Dangerously Thin On Offensive Line

O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia is facing his toughest task yet without much of his line from last season.

The 2012 New England Patriots training camp opened with question marks all across the offensive line and those questions still persist. Few would believe that after losing the great book-end Matt Light that a second year starter in the wings, Nate Solder, would be the surest thing entering August.

Two of the most renowned guards in the league, Logan Mankins (knee) and Brian Waters (personal) remain out of action, as does right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back). Needless to say, the offensive line is in shambles.

Luckily, the Patriots have a constant at the position – Dante Scarnecchia. The offensive line coach, who constantly draws praise from current and former lineman, has his hands full as the Pats enter preseason action.

There are a number of scenarios that could play out over the next month before the season starts. Any of the three listed above could return to action. Let’s assume they don’t. Dan Koppen by all accounts has returned healthy after an ankle injury threw him on IR following week 1 last season. The Swiss Army Knife, Dan Connolly who has played any of the three interior positions can be plugged in at either guard spot assuming Koppen is good to go in the middle. Marcus Cannon, who contributed down the stretch last season after spending the first half of his rookie season on the PUP list, will by default be at right tackle.

That leaves four likely starters:

LT Nate Solder
LG Dan Connolly
C Dan Koppen
RG —
RT Marcus Cannon

Let’s review some of the depth options at the guard position:

Ryan Wendell – Entering his fourth season out of Fresno State (Mankins’ alma mater), Wendell has started five total games including three last season.
Nick McDonald – Entering his third season out of Grand Valley State, McDonald was pressed into action last season for the Patriots and saw two starts. McDonald has not practiced with the team yet during training camp.
Donald Thomas – Entering his fifth season out of UConn, McDonald has 14 career starts, including 12 back in ’09 for the Dolphins. Thomas started at center last season for the Pats in week 16.

*Veteran free agent guard Robert Gallery retired Saturday.

The Patriots appear to be equally as thin at the tackle spot:

Kyle Hix – An UDFA out of Texas, Hix spent last season on IR. He has great size (6’7″ 315 lbs) and benefited from being around the system last year. He left practice early today with an arm injury.
Darrion Weems – Weems, the a rookie out of Oregon, was signed and cut by the Viking in July before the Patriots picked him up. He left practice early today with a knee injury.
Dustin Waldron – Signed after being waived by the Dolphins earlier this week, the rookie out of Portland State is being thrust into action but currently lacks the ideal frame at just 280 lbs.

An ideal situation would see the Patriots getting each of Mankins, Waters, and Vollmer back, but if they can get one of Mankins/Waters and Vollmer back for week 1, it would go a long way in addressing the gaping depth issues this team is facing.

There is a lot of chatter about this team’s offense rivaling that of the 2007 Pats, but Tom Brady is lacking the front-line depth he had back then.

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