The New England Patriots offensive line is an ever-changing quilt, but patchwork it is not. Despite being without All-Pro guard Logan Mankins for chunks of this season, and moving on from two starters from last season in tackle Matt Light and guard Brian Waters, the offensive line has allowed just one sack over the past four games.
The latest addition to the mix along the line of scrimmage could be rookie Markus Zusevics, an undrafted free agent from Iowa who was activated from the reserve/non-football injury list last Thursday.
While Zusevics was inactive for the Patriots' Thanksgiving night win over the New York Jets, he could be an injury or two away from seeing playing time.
"Technique-wise, he's definitely behind as you would expect. He's working hard to catch up on that," coach Bill Belichick said on Tuesday. "(He) played tackle in college, but also has possibly the physical attributes to play inside at guard similar to Marcus Cannon type of discussion."
Belichick said that Zusevics has improved physically after suffering a torn pectoral muscle during February's NFL Scouting Combine, but his technique is an area of focus.
"Hopefully he can get reps in practice with the scout team, and be able to improve the techniques of his game, because I think physically he's coming along well. He continues to work hard, pay attention to the little details," Belichick said. "I think he could help us."
Speaking of Cannon, he was thrust into a starting role on Thanksgiving, with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer scratched from the game due to injury. Vollmer's status going forward remains unclear.
"(Cannon) had the opportunity to go in there and play a full game," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "To hold up the way that he did, and handle the communication, all the different variables that go along with playing a road game in New York, we're really pleased with the way he performed, and we got a big performance out of him."
Cannon didn't miss a beat, and neither did guard Donald Thomas in replacing Mankins, or guard Nick McDonald in replacing Dan Connolly two weeks ago. These have been the latest plug-'em-in success stories for the Patriots offensive line and their long-time coach Dante Scarnecchia, who was lauded by McDaniels on Tuesday.
"When you talk about those players and the roles that they play on this team, and the contributions that they've made, I don't think you can talk about them without mentioning Dante," McDaniels said. "He does an incredible job of preparing all of them as if they're all going to start and play for four quarters."
Part of that preparation, McDaniels said, consisted of allowing Thomas, McDonald and others to see playing time at multiple positions in the preseason.
"They've all played center, whether it's practice or preseason games, (in addition to) both guard spots on either side, where the communication gets flipped around. I think there's a tremendous amount of value in that alone," McDaniels said.
"And then to go in there in big games and really allow us to continue to play the way that we try to play, regardless of who's in there, I think that just says a lot how much confidence we have in them, and their ability to go in there and execute and compete at a high level, and not really force us to do less than what we want to do."