We’ve talked a lot this offseason about the Patriots' offensive line, as it’s an area that has undergone some changes and has a handful of moving parts.
Beyond the retirement of Matt Light, the Patriots have dealt with the absence of three primary contributors from 2011 during this year’s OTAs, as well as the development and incorporation of others into new roles.
It’s early in the offseason and the team is still expected to return all but one regular (Light) from 2011, but as it currently stands, there are some questions regarding the offensive line.
Here’s a look at several of the players who figure to be line staples this upcoming season, and an evaluation of the questions surrounding each as we march forward with OTAs.
The likely new starter at left tackle, Solder has the look of a franchise left tackle, but execution is the question. Although he played the position in college and some during his rookie season, Solder will likely have to go through something of a learning curve and establish consistency. In Super Bowl XLVI, Solder was removed from the right-tackle spot at halftime in favor of Sebastian Vollmer. Consistency and reliability are the keys.
Speaking of Vollmer, the hulking right tackle has been out of sight during the media-accessible OTAs. As it turns out, this is a “precautionary” measure to allow his ankle (which he had surgery on last season) to fully heal, according to Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe. The fact that he is taking time to rest the ankle now suggests that it will be worth monitoring later. While it sounds like he should be full-strength for the regular season, it’s always important to be mindful of situations like these.
There’s no doubting the toughness of Mankins, who amazingly played through a torn ACL late in the 2011 season. He’s had surgery to repair the damage, and now the question is how he’ll bounce back. Mike Reiss reported earlier this offseason that Mankins hopes to be on the field for training camp, but this is another injury situation that bears monitoring.
Gallery could prove to be one of the more valuable pick-ups of the offseason for the Patriots, as he has the versatility to slide into a role as a guard on either side, and perhaps even the skill set to play right tackle in a pinch. The fact that Gallery was available in the first place is worth noting, as he was released just one year into a three-year deal with the Seahawks, where he was playing for his former head coach (and current Seahawks offensive line coach) Tom Cable. Can Gallery bounce back from what was a down year for the 31-year-old? It is believed that Gallery wasn’t a great match for some of Seattle’s zone blocking schemes, and that he should prove more comfortable in New England’s offense.
In limited action as a rookie in 2011, Cannon showed some of what made him a prospect most considered worthy of a first-round choice prior to his cancer diagnosis leading up to the draft. But work is left to be done, and the question remains if Cannon is ready to take on a potentially beefed-up role in 2012, as he is likely to be counted on as the primary reserve at multiple positions, including right tackle. His continued development is important to New England this offseason.
Like Vollmer, Waters has been absent from OTAs (at least those that the media has been able to attend). Unlike Vollmer, the reason for his absence does not appear to be injury-related. OTAs are voluntary, and Waters has every right to train on his own at a location other than Foxborough during the offseason, but teams certainly prefer that players join their teammates on-site for the on-field workouts. Waters proved in 2011 that he could quickly assimilate into a new setting, and will have to prove again during training camp that the time missed with his teammates won't set him back.