AFC East: Sebastian Vollmer

New England Patriots season wrap-up

January, 22, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 4
Preseason power ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: How about a murder charge to a tight end who had previously been thought of as a centerpiece of the team? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge threatened to sink the Patriots' season before it even started, but in a credit to Bill Belichick, his staff and the players, it was hardly a distraction as they once again advanced to the AFC Championship Game. There were no on-field surprises that could come close to topping that.

.Biggest disappointment: Rob Gronkowski's knee injury Dec. 8. This falls into the wider-ranging category of “season-ending injuries to top players” and the Patriots had their fair share early in the season -- defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6), linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 13), and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 27). But Gronkowski’s felt like a season-changer in some respects, deflating some of the optimism that had been built up at that point because the offense looked markedly different with him back on the field.

Biggest need: Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib. The four-game stretch of football he played from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 was as impressive as we’ve seen from a Patriots cornerback in recent memory, the highlight coming when he was matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch before leaving in the third quarter with injury. The 2013 season showed how the Patriots’ defense is different with a healthy No. 1 matchup option like Talib, with the final piece of evidence coming in the AFC Championship Game when he left with a knee injury in the second quarter.

Team MVP: It has to be quarterback Tom Brady, with Talib, receiver Julian Edelman and kicker Stephen Gostkowski the other strong candidates. This was a “do more with less” type season for Brady, similar to 2006, and he willed the offense to productive results despite almost a complete overhaul. He’s the consummate leader, almost like another coach, and the Patriots don’t advance to the conference championship without him.

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New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was announced on Friday morning as the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.

Vollmer
The award, which is given to one player for each of the 32 NFL teams, goes to a player "who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration."

Vollmer was placed on injured reserve after starting the first eight games of the season, and has dealt with back and foot injuries in recent seasons.

On March 17, the NFL will formally recognize the league's 32 Ed Block winners at a banquet in Baltimore.

More from the news release:

"The Ed Block Courage Award is named after Ed Block, a long-time head trainer for the Baltimore Colts and a respected humanitarian dedicated to helping children. Recipients are often players who have overcome devastating injuries or tragedies in their personal lives to return to top-level competition in the NFL.

Officially formulated in 1986, the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is sanctioned by the NFL and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS). The Foundation is committed to heightening awareness of the plight of abused children in cities throughout the league. Proceeds from the annual Courage Awards event benefit the Foundation’s Courage House National Support Network For Kids."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Brandon Bolden was not spotted at the start of Friday morning's rainy New England Patriots practice, which sparked the following question: Could this open the door for Stevan Ridley to return to the 46-man game-day roster?

Ridley
Ridley
Bolden hasn't been listed on the team's injury report this week and the absence could be non-injury related. More details regarding Bolden's absence should be learned around 4 p.m. ET when the official participation report is released.

The Patriots dressed three running backs for last Sunday's win against the Texans -- Shane Vereen (41 of 70 snaps), LeGarrette Blount (20 snaps) and Bolden (9) -- which left Ridley on the sidelines. Since that decision, one of the top storylines surrounding the team is if Ridley will continue to be a healthy scratch, or if he might re-emerge in some form. Bolden's status could have a direct impact on the answer.

The other area of note that caught the eye at practice was seeing fill-in starting right tackle Will Svitek's right ankle heavily taped. Svitek landed on the injury report Wednesday, leaving the Patriots vulnerable at tackle because starter Sebastian Vollmer (leg) is on season-ending injured reserve and top backup Marcus Cannon (ankle) remains out of practice.

Also with receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) not practicing, it essentially rules him out Sunday for the second straight game.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard wasn't present for the second day in a row as he is due in court for a second day in Nebraska.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing a few thoughts at halftime, as the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 17-3:

Ugly half of football. This has been one of the Patriots' worst halves of the season. The tone was set by Tom Brady's interception on the team's second offensive play -- an inaccurate delivery to tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a bad throw by Brady, who might be dealing with discomfort with the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand.

Where's Ridley? Running back Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher in 2012, was limited to six snaps in the first half (not including final kneel-down) as the Patriots went mostly with Brandon Bolden (15 snaps), while mixing in LeGarrette Blount (starter who totaled 5 snaps). A bit of a head-scratcher there.

Cole over Ryan at cornerback. Without top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots started Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the position, with Marquice Cole playing the nickelback role. It was Cole who overran receiver Brandon Gibson on the Dolphins' first touchdown. The Patriots used rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in that role last week, but he hasn't played a defensive snap today, with Cole getting the nod over him.

Dolphins sparked by run. Miami ran the ball 21 times in the first half, and you wonder if the same approach would be taken if the Patriots had Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at defensive tackle, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker. The Patriots just aren't as sturdy in the front seven and the Dolphins are taking it to them. Credit goes to the Dolphins for executing and winning the critical situations.

Injury report. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a right leg injury and has already been ruled out. Looked like the season-ending type, but that hasn't been confirmed. That thrusts third-year player Marcus Cannon into the statring mix at right tackle, with veteran Will Svitek now the top backup.

Patriots get the ball. The Patriots had won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will receive the opening kickoff of the second half. The home crowd booed the Patriots as they kneeled on the ball at the end of the second quarter.

W2W4: Dolphins at Patriots

October, 25, 2013
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With Rob Gronkowski returning to the field in Week 7, the speculation that previously permeated throughout each week about his availability no longer exists. As Gronkowski said Wednesday, his focus can be geared toward the upcoming opponent and not become distracted by questions about whether he’ll be available to play on Sunday.

His return was an impactful one, despite the team falling in overtime, as he hauled in eight catches for 114 yards.

But while they got back arguably their best player not named Tom Brady, the Patriots aren’t entirely out of the woods yet on the injury front. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/groin) has practiced on a limited basis this week and is listed as questionable to play Sunday. Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), who has also practiced on a limited basis this week, also is questionable for Week 8.

The Patriots always put a premium on division games, and they’ll play their fourth of the season on Sunday and their first against the Miami Dolphins, who were hopeful to make the leap this season after a 7-9 campaign in 2012. While the Patriots are looking to bounce back from a disappointing Week 7 loss, the Dolphins are try to break a three-game losing streak and climb back above .500.

When the two square off on Sunday, here’s what we’ll be looking for.

1. Talib and Amendola’s availability. Amendola was the team’s most notable offseason acquisition, while Talib has proven to be an indispensable member of this defense. Getting both of them back for Sunday would be a boon for the Patriots, as the offense needs Amendola to help kick-start its production, while Talib is playing like one of the best cornerbacks in all of football. The Dolphins haven’t been able to generate much on the ground this season, but with a receiving corps that features Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and a capable slot presence in Brandon Gibson, getting Talib back would be a big step in slowing down their passing game. Two players we know the Patriots won’t have: defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle), who have been ruled out by the team.

2. Can Brady find his rhythm? Brady hasn’t lost any confidence despite recent struggles, as he shouldn’t have. That being said, the veteran quarterback needs to raise his level of play as the season progresses, as he’s completed fewer than 56 percent of his throws. The Patriots' offense has dealt with moving parts, but the potential to have Gronkowski and Amendola on the field at the same time opens things up. Can the offense get it going against a Dolphins defense that made steep investments on players at all three levels this offseason?

3. Exposing the Dolphins' pass protection. The Dolphins made the decision to pass on Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson when they traded up to the third pick in this year’s draft to grab defensive end Dion Jordan. With second-year player Jonathan Martin struggling, the team acted on a trade opportunity to acquire veteran Bryant McKinnie from Baltimore this past week, which could eventually swing Martin over to the right side and move Tyson Clabo into a reserve role. Regardless of who mans the left side, the Patriots have an opportunity to generate pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Veteran Andre Carter, signed this week, isn’t likely to start for the team, but he could be an effective edge rusher with a natural nose for the quarterback.

4. Containing the Dolphins' pass rush. By the numbers, the Dolphins' pass rush hasn’t been particularly strong, but that’s due in part to time missed by standout Cameron Wake, who is now healthy after dealing with a knee issue earlier this season. Bill Belichick said of Wake: “He’s just a good football player. I don’t think there’s any one thing that just jumps off about him. It’s just all solid and good. He plays strong, he’s athletic, he’s active. He can rush the edge but he can also rush with power. He’s got a good variety of moves.” Wake, who primarily aligns on the defense’s left side, will be the responsibility of Sebastian Vollmer to contain. Vollmer has been his usual solid self this season, and Sunday will mark yet another test for the towering right tackle.

5. Punt game in focus. Dolphins punter Brandon Fields leads the league in both gross and net punting, a testament to both his strong leg and directional punting ability. But the Dolphins have allowed an average of 9.9 yards per return, which could be tied to Fields at times outkicking his coverage. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is the NFL's active leader in punt-return average, and he had a brilliant return against the Jets last weekend. He’s the only NFL player to return a punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons, and he may have a chance to find space and room to maneuver if Fields unloads on a punt.

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

September, 28, 2013
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Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday night's road game against the Atlanta Falcons:

Danny Amendola: Receiver is listed as questionable on the injury report (groin) and looked better on the practice field this week, but the hunch here is that he might need some more time.

Steve Beauharnais: Rookie linebacker has been a healthy scratch the last two games.

Rob Gronkowski: Tight end has been making positive strides, but the educated guess here is that he'd like an increased level of comfort before taking the field.

Chris Jones: Rookie defensive tackle is a developmental prospect who has yet to dress for a game since being claimed on waivers from the Buccaneers.

Matthew Slater: Special-teams captain has already been declared out with a wrist injury.

Sebastian Vollmer: Starting right tackle missed practices Wednesday and Thursday with a foot injury, and while he returned for Friday's light practice, the feeling here is that he's more likely to play Oct. 6 in Cincinnati.

Leon Washington: Veteran running back was inactive last week with a thigh injury and remained limited in practice all week.

Sebastian Vollmer returns to practice

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After missing the previous two days of practice, New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was on the field Friday morning as the team prepares to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night.

Vollmer reportedly sprained his foot and was seen on the field Friday with tape on his left foot.

Wide receiver Matthew Slater (wrist) did not participate in practice.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm) and Danny Amendola (groin) were on the field.

Vollmer and playing-time incentives

September, 26, 2013
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It's too soon to know whether right tackle Sebastian Vollmer's will be available for Sunday night's game in Atlanta, but we know now that he's dealing with a foot injury that kept him off the practice field on Wednesday and Thursday.

Vollmer
The Patriots hope to return the massive tackle to the lineup as soon as possible, as he presents one of the best players on their offense and is a stabilizing force as both a run blocker and pass protector.

Thinking back to the four-year contract that Vollmer signed this offseason, a couple of details stand out as it relates to his injury and the potential impact it has on his playing-time status.

The first is a playing-time incentive to be paid out at the end of this league year: If Vollmer logs 90 percent of all the offensive snaps, he'll be paid $750,000.

He's also entitled to a roster bonus of $1 million (due on the third day of the 2014 league year) if he plays 80 percent of the snaps this season.

The Patriots likely included playing-time incentives in Vollmer's deal as a result of previous injury issues he's worked through (back and knee). These incentives are not uncommon around the league, as they provide a layer of protection for franchises in the event that a player suffers an injury or experiences a precipitous drop in performance.

The foot issue cost Vollmer exactly 50 percent of the offensive snaps in Week 3 (37 out of 74), meaning he has now played 193 of 230 possible offensive snaps this season, or 83.9 percent. That keeps him above the threshold to earn the 2014 roster bonus, but behind the pace needed to achieve the bonus to be paid out at the end of this year.

The Patriots need Vollmer back on the field for obvious reasons, and a quick recovery for Vollmer could pay off in a big way from a financial standpoint.

Pats' OL Cannon ready for anything

September, 26, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Versatility is perhaps just as important as ability for the Patriots on the offensive line. The team has always sought out players that can handle multiple positions along the front.

Marcus Cannon, a third-year player, is a fitting example. He's been called upon to play four positions already (everything but center) after starring at TCU as a left tackle.

His approach now given the shuffling of positions is simple: "Whatever they ask me to do, that's what I'm doing," he said Thursday.

With right tackle Sebastian Vollmer missing his second straight day of practice (foot), it could be Cannon that is called upon to handle the spot Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

Cannon, speaking with reporters following the team's practice, feels as though he's making strides as he settles into his role.

"Every day there's improvement," he said. "There's still a lot of improvement to go, just taking it every day step-by-step and work hard to improve more."

His play against the Buccaneers (37 snaps in relief of Vollmer) drew praise from his head coach.

"He came through for us yesterday," Bill Belichick said on Monday. "I thought overall our line blocked well and we were able to run the ball competitively against a good run defense. All those guys did a good job; he did a good job too."

Should Vollmer sit on Sunday night, Cannon will make just the second start of his career. He also started one game in place of Vollmer last season. Should Vollmer make a quick recovery, Cannon said he'll be ready to go in any spot that the team asks him to handle.

"[Offensive line] coach [Dante] Scarnecchia coaches us pretty well, the whole offensive line and if we need to get ready for something, he's going to get us ready for it," he said. "That's just the type of coach he is, we just do whatever he asks us."

Quick-hit thoughts after third quarter

September, 22, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Entering the final quarter of play, the New England Patriots lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the third quarter:

1. Pass rush getting it done. Seemingly picking up where it left off last week, the Patriots' pass rush has been productive thus far, generating three sacks. Defensive end Chandler Jones has been a factor, registering two separate half sacks, with defensive tackle Tommy Kelly helping out for an opening drive sack to stop a Bucs drive.

2. Vollmer banged up. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was replaced on the team's first drive of the second half by Marcus Cannon, with Vollmer spending time at the start of the half speaking with members of the team's medical staff. The Patriots announced that he is questionable to return with a foot injury. For the Bucs, star wide receiver Vincent Jackson is questionable to return with a rib injury.

3. Brady picked in the end zone. The Patriots had a razor-sharp drive going before an uncommon mistake from Tom Brady in the end zone: He threw an interception right into the hands of safety Mark Barron, resulting in a touchback. Brady and rookie receiver Aaron Dobson couldn't connect on what should have been a score just two plays earlier.

4. Defense tightening up. The Patriots defense has really settled in after allowing the Bucs deep into their own territory to open the game. They've forced two turnovers on downs and intercepted Josh Freeman on another play. Doug Martin has been held in check, limited to just 78 yards on 18 carries.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties in the third quarter: right tackle Marcus Cannon (false start) and defensive end Chandler Jones (neutral zone infraction).
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces after reviewing the first quarter of the Patriots' 28-20 preseason win over the Giants:

1. It seemed like the Patriots wanted to take a closer look at veteran safety Adrian Wilson and his effectiveness as a blitzer. Wilson blitzed on the first play of the game (the ball was out quickly) and then on the third-and-7 play (incomplete pass) that ended the Giants’ second drive. On the second blitz, Wilson was met by running back Andre Brown and ridden out of the play, as quarterback Eli Manning stepped up to make his throw on the run. Then there was a third blitz from Wilson on the Giants’ opening play of the third drive (off the defensive left side), when Manning completed a 37-yard pass to receiver Louis Murphy as Wilson was again picked up by running back David Wilson. He then blitzed again on the Giants’ touchdown later in the quarter (wasn’t close to disrupting the play). As the Patriots consider whether Wilson has a spot on their 53-man roster, I could envision them looking at these blitzes today and attempting to determine if Wilson can help them in that role.

2. Rookie defensive end Michael Buchanan (6-6, 255) was disruptive off the defensive left side, showing good power and multiple pass-rush moves, as well as how his long arms can affect passing lanes for opposing quarterbacks. In addition, he showed strength and technique to effectively set the edge, which is a necessity for any end (4-3) or outside linebacker (3-4) in the team’s scheme. We got a good look at that on the Giants’ second offensive play when Buchanan locked up with pulling guard Chris Snee, held his ground, and kept Wilson hemmed in as he was stopped for a modest 1-yard gain.

3. A good contrast to that play was seen later in the quarter on Wilson’s 16-yard run on a pitch from Manning around left end. The Patriots’ run force broke down, with right end Jake Bequette taking his first step inside, which was enough to lose containment. With linebacker Dane Fletcher also sealed off by left tackle Will Beatty, and cornerback Marquice Cole cleared out of the area because he was covering receiver Hakeem Nicks, it left a wide swath of real estate for Wilson. Some credit goes to the Giants for a well-blocked run, but it looked like it also could have been executed better from the Patriots’ standpoint.

4. The top seven offensive linemen appear set for the Patriots (Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Will Svitek), so I spent some time watching the reserves beyond that to see if anyone stood out. Center Matt Stankiewitch (6-4, 305) would be the choice. The first play might have been his worst -- he was pushed back into quarterback Ryan Mallett by Linval Joseph -- but he seemed to settle in nicely over the remainder of the first quarter against first-unit competition. His athleticism to get to the second level of the defense was seen on receiver Josh Boyce’s 18-yard reverse, when he sealed off linebacker Dan Connor. A nice play like that was later balanced off by failing to hold his block against defensive tackle Mike Patterson as Patterson pressured Mallett early in the second quarter. Like most rookies, Stankiewitch will benefit from some physical development, but he showed a scrappiness that made us take note.

5. There is a risk-reward that comes with every blitz, and the risk was evidenced on the Giants’ first touchdown. On third-and-2 from the Patriots 3-yard line, the defense sent seven rushers. That created a man-to-man situation with receivers and defensive backs, with rookie cornerback Logan Ryan matched up against Nicks. The rush didn’t get there and Manning had time to lock in on Nicks to complete a relatively easy touchdown. If you’re going to send seven, that’s a case where the rush has to get there quickly to help out the defensive backs. Didn’t happen in that case.
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.
We are nearly a month into free agency, which means most of the major signings are complete.

So let's take a look at updated salary-cap space for the AFC East. The latest numbers were provided this week by the NFLPA:
Unlike 2012, the Bills have been very cautious in free agency this year. Buffalo didn't do much in the beginning but signed some players in the second wave, like quarterback Kevin Kolb and defensive tackle Alan Branch. Buffalo still has decent room left to make quality signings. But it appears the Bills are more focused on building through the draft under first-year head coach Doug Marrone.

New York entered the offseason tied to a lot of bad contracts. But first-year general manager John Idzik did a solid job of gutting the team to get under the cap. The problem now in New York is fielding a competitive team. The Jets signed a few bargain-basement players but haven't done much in free agency. Expect a few more cuts or trades for cap relief. Star cornerback Darrelle Revis and popular backup quarterback Tim Tebow are the most likely targets.

The Patriots have been an interesting team in free agency. A contract extension with quarterback Tom Brady provided some room to make quality free-agent signings such as Adrian Wilson, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer and Aqib Talib. With just $10.3 million left, the Patriots most likely are done with major signings.

The Dolphins entered the offseason with more than $40 million in cap room and spent it freely on big-name free agents such as Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Brent Grimes, Dustin Keller and Philip Wheeler. Miami now has the lowest amount of cap room remaining in the AFC East at $8.26 million. I expect the Dolphins to make a couple more trades or roster cuts this offseason to provide some cap relief. Candidates include wide receiver Davone Bess and cornerbacks Dimitri Patterson and Richard Marshall.
The New England Patriots have one of the top offensive tackle combinations in the NFL with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. But that hasn't stopped the reigning AFC East champions from searching for depth in the NFL draft.

A source tells ESPN.com's AFC East blog that New England recently held a private workout with Valdosta State offensive tackle Ryan Schraeder. He is a big and athletic small-school prospect who has the potential to develop with the right coaching. Schraeder, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 304 pounds, is considered a sleeper because of his lack of experience.

Schraeder has an interesting story. He grew at an enormous rate in high school and college, but didn't play organized football until three years into college.

He played one year at Butler community college and one year at Division II Valdosta State -- and that was enough to get noticed. In addition to the Patriots, Schraeder also worked out with the Atlanta Falcons.

The New England Patriots already lost two starting wide receivers this offseason. But the Patriots were not about to let quarterback Tom Brady also lose his protection on the offensive line.

Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com reports New England has reached an agreement with free-agent right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. This is a wise move to keep the Patriots' stout offensive line intact, especially with Brady (35) getting up there in age.

Vollmer was a key cog to New England's success passing and running the football. The Patriots led the NFL in total offense in 2012. Brady threw for 4,827 yards and tailback Stevan Ridley rushed for a career-best 1,263 yards. Vollmer played a key role in both players' successful season.

Vollmer is very tough and played well through injuries last season. He started 15 games in the regular season and two additional games in the playoffs. He joins former first-round pick Nate Solder as a solid and versatile offensive-tackle combination for New England.

The Patriots were smart to act quickly this weekend. The offensive tackle market opened up after former Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long recently signed with the St. Louis Rams. Interest had picked up with other offensive tackles such as Vollmer, Eric Winston and Andre Smith.

The Patriots made sure they kept their guy in Vollmer. After the high-profile Wes Welker debacle, this is one free-agent move on offense that should make Brady smile a little.

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