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Thursday, September 13, 2012
Interior of O-line a focus in locker room

By Field Yates

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Patriots' offensive line paved the way for a 162-yard season-opening rushing performance on Sunday, but may be without starting right guard Dan Connolly in Week 2, as he was held out of Wednesday's practice with a head injury.

His health, as well as the continuing improvement of the knee of Logan Mankins, coming off ACL surgery, are amongst the story lines related to the interior of the offensive line. On Thursday, both Mankins and Donald Thomas, a player who could be in line to start if Connolly is unable to play against the Cardinals, spoke to reporters inside the Patriots' locker room.

Mankins, who played through an ACL tear last season that was suffered during the season-opener, described how he feels after returning to the field for his heaviest workload since the offseason surgery.

"Surviving," he said. "I've been through this a lot, so I know what it takes to get your body to play the season, and we're still working on it. Progress, week-by-week."

He also discussed the challenge of facing this week's opponent, the Cardinals, a team New England has not faced since 2008. Specifically, he alluded to the task of preparing to take on players whose game he is not as familiar with as other more common opponents.

"There's teams we play every year twice a year, so we know them very well, and their players," Mankins said. "I think it was 2008 we played them, so it's been quite a while, we haven't played against those players. You can study the scheme of film, but it's hard to study how you play against that guy, so we have to do our homework."

Perhaps no player will provide as much of a challenge for the Patriots' interior offensive line as Cardinals' defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Thomas describes the 31-year old as one of the better players at his position in the NFL.

"He's probably one of the top defensive tackles in the league," he said of Dockett. "He's a leader out there, I think, for their D-line and he's gets those guys going. He's been playing for a long time and he's a good player. You've got to be able to match up with him and control him and not let him get going."

While it remains to be seen if Thomas will step into a starting role on Sunday, the fifth-year guard says he's used to taking on a different role on a week-to-week basis.

"Absolutely," he said. "My situation, starting to play center, and getting used to that. And being able to fill in where I can in the interior line, you just never know what can happen from week-to-week and you have to be ready to go. And I think we all understand that, and we all know we can play multiple positions so we have to be able to play them."