Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Versatility, value on Patriots O-line
By Field Yates
If there is a silver lining for dealing with an injury to a player, it's that his absence creates an opportunity for one of his teammates.
In the case of Patriots right guard Dan Connolly, who is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, it was Marcus Cannon who was called upon to fill in. A subsequent injury to Cannon opened the door for Markus Zusevics to earn guard reps, and then missed time for Zusevics led to veteran Will Svitek playing on the interior part of the line, rather than his customary tackle spot.
Head coach Bill Belichick recently highlighted Svitek's versatile skill set, noting that he can play either tackle position, a desirable skill set for teams looking to build their line depth.
The Patriots have long valued versatility among their offensive linemen, as there can be several moving parts along the line that force a team to shuffle the deck.
Focusing on the Patriots projected top seven linemen, position versatility is among the common denominators.
Guard Logan Mankins: Belichick said during the 2012 season that he believed Mankins was probably capable of playing any of the five line positions if needed, though Mankins is entrenched at the left guard spot, where he's among the best in the game. He was also a standout left tackle in college at Fresno State.
Center Ryan Wendell: Wendell took over starting center duties for the 2012 season, though he can flex to either guard spot as well. His modest size (6-2, 300) is offset by his technician-like approach and ability to leverage defenders. He's developed into one of the better centers in football.
Tackle Sebastian Vollmer: Another player who has been entrenched in his current spot at right tackle, Vollmer has the requisite skills to swing to left tackle as well. In fact, he was likely the Patriots back-up left tackle last season, though Nate Solder was on the field for virtually every offensive snap.
Tackle Nate Solder: Solder was a chess piece on the line as a rookie, playing at both tackle spots, as an extra lineman, and even getting preseason guards snaps. With his uncommon length and movement skills, playing multiple positions is well within his capabilities.
Guard Dan Connolly: Like Wendell, Connolly has interior line flex. He started at center in 2011 before kicking out to guard last season. As things currently stand, he'd likely be called upon to take over at center if Wendell were to ever suffer an injury.
Guard Marcus Cannon: A college tackle prospect, Cannon seems to be working more at guard these days. That being said, he can still serve as a reserve right tackle, and might be able to play left tackle in a pinch, too.
Tackle Will Svitek: As we said off the top, Svitek has four position versatility, with the tools to swing to either tackle spot and play each guard post as well.
Among the remaining linemen on the roster, we have the best feel for Zusevics, who we've seen at both tackle and guard. The book is still out on Josh Kline, Luke Patterson, Brice Schwab and Chris McDonald, who we've seen in small doses this camp.
The Patriots could keep one or more of these five on the practice squad, or one could also emerge as a surprise keep on the 53-man roster. One has to figure that if any of them stick around, he'll have the versatility to play multiple line spots.