With Sebastian Vollmer returning to the practice field, the Patriots' offensive line is likely to take form as the team's third preseason game approaches. Though it's unclear if Vollmer will be available on Friday night against Tampa Bay -- he likely won't be -- it seems like a solid bet that he'll soon re-assume his starting right tackle role, where he has played in his first three NFL seasons.
Vollmer's return likely solidifies four of the Patriots' five starters along the offensive line, with Nate Solder at left tackle, Logan Mankins at left guard and Dan Connolly taking over at right guard in Brian Waters' absence. Should Waters return, a move for Connolly back to center seems likely, although we still do not firmly know if Waters has plans to play this season.
If Waters remains on the did not report list, four-year veteran Ryan Wendell and veteran Dan Koppen would vie for the starting center job.
The projected starting five of Solder, Mankins, Wendell/Koppen, Connolly and Vollmer would represent a solid front for the Patriots, but we've learned during this training camp how much depth and versatility along the line also matter. With that in mind, here's a look at each Patriots lineman that we project to be in the mix to make the final roster, and a brief examination of the versatility they afford:
Logan Mankins. A tackle in college, Mankins has become one of the premier guards in the NFL. Bill Belichick suggested this offseason that Mankins could probably play any of the five offensive line positions, a testament to his athleticism, smarts and toughness.
Nate Solder. We saw Solder perform capably as both a right tackle and left tackle as a rookie in 2011, although it seems likely he's anchored on the left side for the foreseeable future.
Sebastian Vollmer. An second-team All-Pro in 2010 on the right side, Vollmer could likely be used on the left side on an as-needed basis. He has the frame and length to keep edge rushers at bay.
Dan Connolly. You can plug Connolly anywhere along the interior of the line, as he's shown he can play both guard spots and center.
Ryan Wendell. Similar to Connolly, Wendell can handle either guard spot and center duties. The biggest consideration for Wendell is his size (he's listed at 6-foot-2, 300 pounds), which makes him a better fit at center.
Marcus Cannon. The starter on the right side in Vollmer's absence, Cannon seems to have some of the traits needed to play guard as well. That being said, comments from head coach Bill Belichick during training camp seemed to suggest the team sees his as a tackle. In a pinch, it looks as though Cannon could handle both spots.
Nick McDonald. Belichick's thoughts on Mankins playing five positions was part of a follow-up in regards to McDonald's versatility, as we've seen him handle all five duties of the line this preseason. That makes him a prime candidate to stick around on the roster.
Donald Thomas. Thomas had a strong start to camp at the guard position, and recently worked at center during Monday night's contest against Philadelphia. Another interior player who can handle three spots.
Brian Waters. When he was originally signed by the Kansas City Chiefs, Waters actually first worked at center. He settled in at guard, and could also handle the right tackle position in an emergency situation.
Dan Koppen. Koppen has been a rock at center for the Patriots for a number of years, but that's the only position he can handle. That fact hurts his candidacy in making the final roster if he's not viewed as the starter.