The Patriots return their entire starting offensive line in 2014, which could be a good or bad thing. It depends on the viewpoint, as reflected byMonday stories from Mike Tanier of SportsonEarth.com and Sam Monson of ESPN Insider.
Let's start with Tanier, who shares his NFL offensive line rankings in his "Mandatory Monday" column and has the Patriots in the No. 2 spot.
"At first glance, last year's Patriots line performance does not look that great. Brady was sacked more than in any season since 2001, and both center Ryan Wendell and left tackle Nate Solder made more than their shares of mistakes in pass protection," Tanier writes. "Take a deeper look, however, and you see that the Patriots interchanged four running backs but still rushed for over 2,000 yards, and that life in the Patriots passing game was harder than it has been in over a decade because of injuries and defections among the receivers. In a season of change, the line was a stabilizing factor."
Meanwhile, Monson pens an opinion piece on Tom Brady no longer ranking among the game's elite quarterbacks (that should spark some talk-radio debate) and includes this thought on the Patriots' offensive line.
"It's worth noting that it was also the poorest performance from the New England offensive line for several years. The unit posted its worst pass-blocking efficiency figure [a measure of the sacks, hits and hurries surrendered per pass-protecting snaps] since [Pro Football Focus] has been grading tape, and at best the unit was in the middle of the pack when it came to protecting Brady."
The view from here is that the Patriots' offensive line has the potential to be one of the NFL's best, and deepest, but it's also fair to say the unit didn't consistently perform up to expectations in pass protection in 2013. There were some notable breakdowns in critical situations last year. Some credit should also go to the opposition as well for pressing the issue.
Here is an early top-10 depth-chart projection as we look ahead:
LT: Nate Solder
C: Ryan Wendell/Bryan Stork