New England Patriots: Sebastian Vollmer

Checking the locks: Patriots OL

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduce the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyze the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. It's offensive linemen on Thursday.

Sure-fire locks: LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, RT Sebastian Vollmer, OT/G Marcus Cannon, C Bryan Stork, RG Jon Halapio, RT Cameron Fleming

Near lock: G Josh Kline

Trying to get in the door: C Ryan Wendell, C/G Dan Connolly, C/G Braxston Cave, G Chris Barker, OT Jordan Devey, OT Chris Martin

ANALYSIS: When it comes to competitions in training camp, offensive line is near the top of the list. Unlike last year, when the Patriots were combing the waiver wire in late August in hopes of finding some developmental blockers with upside, they are well-stocked to the point that incumbent starters Wendell and Connolly could feel pressure to keep top roles. It will all come down to how quickly draft picks such as Stork (fourth round, 105th overall) and Halapio (sixth round, 179th overall) develop and injuries, as well as how many offensive linemen the team ultimately decides to keep (anywhere between eight and 10). Wendell and Connolly have played plenty of good football for the Patriots, and are top-notch locker-room guys, so they warrant respect and should not be written off. But when a team drafts three offensive linemen, it's quite possible something will have to give somewhere along the line if everyone remains healthy.

Vollmer: Return 'a good moment for me'

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sometimes, when a football player sustains an injury, viewers on television can almost feel the agony themselves.

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer's broken ankle on Oct. 27 falls into that category.

[+] EnlargeSebastian Vollmer
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
When Vollmer was blocking on a running play to the right side, Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks rolled up on the back of Vollmer's legs, and CBS microphones close to the field clearly picked up audio of Vollmer immediately screaming in pain. An air cast was quickly placed on Vollmer's right leg and a cart was called out to help him to the locker room.

Seven-plus months later, Vollmer answered questions from reporters Thursday. The six-year veteran has made significant progress in his recovery was a full participant in Thursday's organized team activity, playing both right and left tackle.

After the practice, Vollmer was asked to recount the scary moment and the ensuing rehab.

“Every time you get hurt, it's not a good thing, and you don't really know what's happened to yourself,” he said. “You go inside, talk to your doctors, and do what's necessary and just work your way [back]. It's a strain. Every day, you do rehab, you get better, you get stronger, you do surgery, all that stuff. Then you're looking forward, and I'm back out here now, so that's a good moment for me.”

Vollmer said he never thought the injury was a career-ender, in part because of the trust he had in the team's medical and rehabilitation staff.

“I knew I was in good hands,” he said.

One of the next steps will be absorbing contact in full pads, which will occur in training camp in late July. But for now, Vollmer's return has been one of the notable developments of the team's organized team activities.

What stood out from Patriots' OTA

May, 30, 2014
May 30
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On a picture perfect Friday morning, the New England Patriots held their third organized team activity of the week on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium (11 a.m.-12:45 p.m.), and the first OTA open to media members.

The goal was to learn more about the team after the OTA, which lasted about 1 hour and 40 minutes, and that has been accomplished.

Here are some of the things that stood out, with more to come a bit later:

1. Wilfork running and Vollmer in drills: Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork (ruptured Achilles, Sept. 29) and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (broken ankle, Oct. 27) are two starters attempting to return from serious injuries last season. Wilfork was present with his teammates for the warm-up part of practice, taking up residence on the far left side of the jogging line (next to veteran defensive end Will Smith). He didn’t participate in any drills, but seeing Wilfork on the field was one of the main things we were looking for today because it indicates progress. Meanwhile, we had little idea of what to expect from Vollmer, and were surprised to see him not only in the warm-up part of practice, but also in other drills. It looked like he stayed out of the last part of practice, 11-on-11 drills, but overall it seems like he's come along nicely this offseason.

2. Cannon getting some LT work: We know not to read too much into things in a spring voluntary practice, as players are moved around based on the absences or limitations of others. Still, it seemed somewhat notable that four-year veteran Marcus Cannon took his reps at left tackle, a result of starter Nate Solder being held out of drills. When we think of Cannon, it’s usually through the lens of right tackle/right guard. Perhaps he factors into the mix as a swing possibility this season, providing some insurance on the left side as well. He started 12 games at left tackle at Texas Christian, but was primarily a right tackle in college (24 starts). Cannon has become a valuable lineman for the Patriots in recent years, and that stood out on the practice field.

3. Brady the coach: Watching quarterback Tom Brady work at his craft, and also push others, is the norm in this setting. We saw it again when receivers were running "go" routes against air (no defenders) and Brady wasn't pleased when several of them slowed down. Brady's booming voice could be heard across the practice fields, imploring the receivers to do better. Brady is as hard-driving in his approach as ever.

4. Lombardi and Belichick link. When media members arrived for practice, and players were going through their warm-up, Bill Belichick stood on the side of the field chatting with Michael Lombardi, whose official title is assistant to the coaching staff. Lombardi, the former Cleveland Browns general manager, has always been a trusted sounding board for Belichick, and that was visible for everyone to see at the start of practice.

5. Following up on our five. Leading into practice, we highlighted five players we wanted to follow up on based on their limitations in some form last season. Here is the rundown:

WR Danny Amendola -- Practiced in full and looked quick and decisive.

DT Armond Armstead -- Was on the field with his teammates, a sign that he is at a point that should put him in position to compete for a role as an interior pocket-pusher. He is still limited in his work.

WR Mark Harrison -- The first-year receiver who missed all of last season with a foot injury was on the field and practiced in full. He had one noticeable drop, but we’re not going to hold it against him in this setting. He hasn’t played football for a year and is clearly still getting back into the groove.

WR Josh Boyce -- Second-year receiver practiced in full.

TE D.J. Williams -- Top “move” tight end on the depth chart watched most of the practice from the sideline, likely because of some minor ailment.

6. Attendance report. Those not spotted on the practice field included cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), receiver Brandon LaFell, left guard Logan Mankins and special teams captain Matthew Slater. There was a second group of players that was present but limited in their work, such as Wilfork and tight end Rob Gronkowski, as expected.

Patriots pick Cameron Fleming in 4th

May, 10, 2014
May 10
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The pick: Cameron Fleming, offensive tackle, Stanford (140th)

My take: After not selecting an offensive lineman in the 2012 and 2013 drafts, the Patriots double-dipped this year, first with center Bryan Stork (4th round, 105th) and then Fleming. This is important from a feed-the-pipeline and salary-cap integrity standpoint. Specific to Fleming, the pick strikes me as "Marcus Cannon Insurance." Cannon enters the final year of his contract and he's proven to be a starting caliber player who could be worthy of a lucrative contract next offseason that the Patriots might not be able to match. There also is an element of "Sebastian Vollmer Insurance" as well, as the team's starting right tackle is recovering from a broken ankle sustained last October and has battled injuries at times over his career.

Size stands out: Fleming is listed at 6-foot-4 7/8 and 323 pounds. It just so happened that Stanford coach David Shaw was on NFL Network at the time of the pick, and he said, "The first thing that stands out is size." Shaw added that 323 pounds might be generous. Fleming was an Aeronautics and Astronautics major at Stanford.

Offensive tackle depth chart: Nate Solder (left), Sebastian Vollmer (right/left), Marcus Cannon (right), Fleming (right), Jordan Devey, R.J. Mattes.

What's next: The Patriots have three sixth-round picks (179, 198, 206) and a seventh-rounder (244).

Leftovers from weekly Pats chat

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
A few leftovers from our weekly New England Patriots chat:

Evan (NJ): Hi Mike, in the AFC Championship Game last year, our pass rush was nearly nonexistent. I think we definitely need to sign a strong pass rusher to give Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich some relief. Do you see the draft or free agency as being the better option?

Evan, I do think we'll see an addition at defensive end behind Jones and Ninkovich, as the team has explored veteran Will Smith as one possibility. But another point to consider is how a pass rush comes from more places than just the defensive end spot. A better interior push will also be a factor and the team should upgrade in that area if Armond Armstead emerges as a contributor. I could also see Jamie Collins being more of a factor in this area. Better coverage also helps the rush and the Patriots look pretty solid in the secondary right now.

James (England): If, as you suggested, linebacker Ryan Shazier is an option in the first round, do you project him as playing inside or outside?

James, I think Shazier is best suited off the line, so it would depend on what defense the team is in. Part of my thinking with Shazier is that 70 percent of defense is played in sub anyway and he could ultimately be a big part of that. Also, there is a pretty notable dropoff after the top three linebackers of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and more quality depth is needed.

Joe (Waltham): Mike, do you think the Patriots draft a QB in this draft? Obviously the visits of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were nothing more than educating themselves more on the draft board, but if someone like AJ McCarron falls to the bottom of the 2nd or even the 3rd, do you think they consider it?

Yes, Joe, I think that is a distinct possibility. A late second-round pick seems a bit rich to me for a quarterback but I think anything after that is in play. Just as Ryan Mallett was a third-round pick in 2011, it wouldn't surprise me if the team picked a quarterback that early this year if the right prospect is there (e.g. Pittsburgh's Tom Savage).

Earl (Marlborough, Mass.): I thought that Will Svitek filled in pretty admirably for injuries early on in the season, and he has versatility. What is his likelihood of return as depth on OL?

Earl, Svitek helped the Patriots through an early stretch of injuries in the preseason but by the end of the season, it was notable to me that rookie Josh Kline was thrust into action over him. Part of that could have been due to Svitek battling an injury. My sense is that the plan would be to turn that guard position over to a younger (less expensive) player like Kline or Chris Barker, knowing that the team goes three deep at tackle with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon.

Carlos (Maine): Mike, why is it just assumed that Ryan Mallett is gone next year?

Carlos, Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014 and thus is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at this time next year. With Tom Brady entrenched as the starter here, and signed through 2017, it makes sense to think that Mallett will likely want to pursue a better chance to start elsewhere. The door should never be slammed shut on Mallett's return, but I'd think the odds wouldn't favor it at this point.

Picked-up Patriots pieces

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
Some picked-up Patriots pieces that catch the eye ...

Take a number, please. Free-agent signee Brandon LaFell had some fun on Twitter, telling his followers that he would be choosing between jersey number 10 and 19. When we think of No. 10, Jabar Gaffney is the most successful receiver of late to come to mind in New England. Austin Collie most recently donned the number. As for No. 19, my first thought was punter Tom Tupa (1996-98). Brandon Tate (2009 third rounder) was the last receiver to wear it consistently. Two hours after his initial tweet, LaFell decided on 19, which all in all, was a neat way to engage his followers on a topic (jersey numbers) that probably interests us more than most.

Snapshots with Vollmer and Edelman. Recovering Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was all smiles at the Ed Block Courage Award dinner, while receiver Julian Edelman took us behind the scenes as he signed his contract (and still represents his alma mater, Kent State).

Revis and cornerback stats. Neil Paine, writing on, looks closer at cornerback Darrelle Revis and the challenge of quantifying cornerback stats.

Give this free-agent class a B-plus. Pete Prisco, an NFL columnist for, is handing out grades to teams for their free-agency moves. He gives the Patriots a B-plus, same mark he gives the Broncos. The Buccaneers get his only straight A.

X's & O's on Revis and Browner. Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report thinks safety Devin McCourty will quickly come to appreciate free-agent signees Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and gets deep into the X's and O's in explaining why.

Amendola and collateral damage. Gregg Rosenthal, who edited the "Around the League" blog on, goes through his list of those affected most by free-agent decisions. Patriots receiver Danny Amendola lands on the list.

Hageman connected to Patriots in another mock. Don Banks of unveils his mock draft 2.0 and it's a familiar prospect slotted to the Patriots at No. 29 -- Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. "The secondary got its attention with the Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner signings, but the defensive front seven still needs help," Banks writes. The mock draft tracker has many mocks in one place.

Patriots positional review: OL

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots offensive linemen.

Guard Logan Mankins
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, including one at left tackle when Nate Solder suffered a concussion.
2013 highlights: The tone-setter. Mankins flexed his toughness throughout the year and showed his versatility in kicking out to tackle as well. A road grader in the running game who was named to the Pro Bowl. After nine seasons, Mankins remains one of the top interior linemen in the league.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Left tackle Nate Solder
Age: 25
2013 status: Played and started 15 games at left tackle. Also logged 22 snaps as a tight end during the regular season.
2013 highlights: Solder continues to blossom into one of the top young left tackles in the league. Has a compelling mix of length and power, but can continue to grow sturdier in his base. Was at-times dominant. Missed his first career game with a concussion.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season (team can exercise option through 2015)

Center Ryan Wendell
Age: 27
2013 status: Played and started every game at center.
2013 highlights: After an exceptional 2012, Wendell wasn’t quite as solid in 2013. He can be outmanned in the middle sometimes with his light frame, but he remains a solid technician. Smart, involved in the line calls and an accurate shotgun snapper, he’s a center you can certainly win with.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Right guard Dan Connolly
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game at right guard.
2013 highlights: After a down 2012, Connolly bounced back for a steady 2013. Offers unique versatility to play both guard spots and center. Not an overwhelm-er at the point of attack, but has good short area quickness and athleticism. If Wendell departs in free agency, Connolly could return to center.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer
Age: 29
2013 status: Played and started eight games before being placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken leg.
2013 highlights: Dominant when on the field. The towering right tackle was among the best at his position before the injury. Powerful and athletic, his loss was felt along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Guard/tackle Marcus Cannon
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in 14 games, starting six in place of Vollmer.
2013 highlights: The Patriots’ utility man along the line, Cannon took snaps at both tackle spots. He has experience at guard as well. As a starter, he was sufficient. Had some struggles against elite defensive ends but has continued to progress. Gives the Patriots insurance along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Guard/tackle Will Svitek
Age: 32
2013 status: Played in 13 games, starting two at right tackle when Cannon was out due to injury.
2013 Highlights: Another utility lineman who returned from injury after missing the entire 2012 season. Held up in spot duty at both guard and tackle. A veteran with positional versatility.
Current contract runs through: Free agent.

Guard Josh Kline
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in seven games, starting against Baltimore when Mankins played left tackle.
2013 highlights: Emerged as a young, developmental prospect. Went undrafted out of Kent State but could stick around as a player the Patriots can count on. Performed at a high level in start against the Ravens.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Guard Chris Barker
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in four games.
2013 highlights: A reserve who was active sporadically, seeing some time on the field goal/extra point team.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey, OL R.J. Mattes, OT Markus Zusevics

POSITIONAL NEED: Contractually, the Patriots have four of their five starters from 2013 in place for next season, as Wendell is the lone free agent. If the team brings him back, the 2014 starters may well mirror this year’s starting group. If Wendell doesn’t return, the team could shift Connolly back to center, use Cannon at right guard and form an altered starting five. Kline showed promise as a developmental prospect, while Barker, Cave, Devey, Zusevics and Mattes are lesser-known prospects. Given that Cave was claimed off of waivers from Cleveland at the start of the season, he could be a player the team has a preferred level of interest in. All told, the Patriots have options along the offensive line. The angle worth watching closely is the transition from longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo. Scarnecchia was simply phenomenal, both as an X’s and O’s coach and talent developer. This group had some struggles on the whole in pass protection this season, but can be a strength of the roster with a bounce-back season.

New England Patriots season wrap-up

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 4
Preseason power ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: How about a murder charge to a tight end who had previously been thought of as a centerpiece of the team? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge threatened to sink the Patriots' season before it even started, but in a credit to Bill Belichick, his staff and the players, it was hardly a distraction as they once again advanced to the AFC Championship Game. There were no on-field surprises that could come close to topping that.

.Biggest disappointment: Rob Gronkowski's knee injury Dec. 8. This falls into the wider-ranging category of “season-ending injuries to top players” and the Patriots had their fair share early in the season -- defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6), linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 13), and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 27). But Gronkowski’s felt like a season-changer in some respects, deflating some of the optimism that had been built up at that point because the offense looked markedly different with him back on the field.

Biggest need: Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib. The four-game stretch of football he played from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 was as impressive as we’ve seen from a Patriots cornerback in recent memory, the highlight coming when he was matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch before leaving in the third quarter with injury. The 2013 season showed how the Patriots’ defense is different with a healthy No. 1 matchup option like Talib, with the final piece of evidence coming in the AFC Championship Game when he left with a knee injury in the second quarter.

Team MVP: It has to be quarterback Tom Brady, with Talib, receiver Julian Edelman and kicker Stephen Gostkowski the other strong candidates. This was a “do more with less” type season for Brady, similar to 2006, and he willed the offense to productive results despite almost a complete overhaul. He’s the consummate leader, almost like another coach, and the Patriots don’t advance to the conference championship without him.


Vollmer receives Ed Block Courage Award

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was announced on Friday morning as the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award.

The award, which is given to one player for each of the 32 NFL teams, goes to a player "who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration."

Vollmer was placed on injured reserve after starting the first eight games of the season, and has dealt with back and foot injuries in recent seasons.

On March 17, the NFL will formally recognize the league's 32 Ed Block winners at a banquet in Baltimore.

More from the news release:

"The Ed Block Courage Award is named after Ed Block, a long-time head trainer for the Baltimore Colts and a respected humanitarian dedicated to helping children. Recipients are often players who have overcome devastating injuries or tragedies in their personal lives to return to top-level competition in the NFL.

Officially formulated in 1986, the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that is sanctioned by the NFL and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society (PFATS). The Foundation is committed to heightening awareness of the plight of abused children in cities throughout the league. Proceeds from the annual Courage Awards event benefit the Foundation’s Courage House National Support Network For Kids."

Patriots cap and IR ramifications

December, 10, 2013
A case can be made that the New England Patriots have had to deal with more critical season-ending injury issues than any other team in the NFL, as frontline players such as tight end Rob Gronkowski, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Jerod Mayo, offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly headline those on injured reserve.

The loss of the players on the injured reserve is also felt from a salary cap perspective, as the Patriots have a total of $27.4 million of salary on injured reserve, second most in the NFL behind only the Rams at $28.8 million.

With an assist from Brian McIntyre, a cap expert and owner of, below is a list at the top five teams hit hardest from a cap perspective by injured reserve players.

Rams -- $28.8 million
Patriots -- $27.4 million
Texans -- $26.1 million
Bengals -- $21.4 million
Giants - $19.7 million

The next five in line are the Broncos, Bears, Jets, Saints and Colts.

McIntyre also passes along that $27.4 million represents 21.1 percent of the Patriots' adjusted cap number, second to only the Rams at 23.4 percent.

These figures further reinforce: injuries have hit the Patriots hard, both as it relates to on-field impact and salary cap management off of it.

Will Bolden's absence open door for Ridley?

December, 6, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Brandon Bolden was not spotted at the start of Friday morning's rainy New England Patriots practice, which sparked the following question: Could this open the door for Stevan Ridley to return to the 46-man game-day roster?

Bolden hasn't been listed on the team's injury report this week and the absence could be non-injury related. More details regarding Bolden's absence should be learned around 4 p.m. ET when the official participation report is released.

The Patriots dressed three running backs for last Sunday's win against the Texans -- Shane Vereen (41 of 70 snaps), LeGarrette Blount (20 snaps) and Bolden (9) -- which left Ridley on the sidelines. Since that decision, one of the top storylines surrounding the team is if Ridley will continue to be a healthy scratch, or if he might re-emerge in some form. Bolden's status could have a direct impact on the answer.

The other area of note that caught the eye at practice was seeing fill-in starting right tackle Will Svitek's right ankle heavily taped. Svitek landed on the injury report Wednesday, leaving the Patriots vulnerable at tackle because starter Sebastian Vollmer (leg) is on season-ending injured reserve and top backup Marcus Cannon (ankle) remains out of practice.

Also with receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) not practicing, it essentially rules him out Sunday for the second straight game.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard wasn't present for the second day in a row as he is due in court for a second day in Nebraska.

Vollmer injury spotlights OL depth

October, 28, 2013
When starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer remained down on the ground in the second quarter of Sunday's win against the Miami Dolphins, and could be heard screaming in pain on the television broadcast and was later carted to the locker room, it had all the makings of a season-ending situation.

Thus, it was little surprise that the Boston Herald is reporting Vollmer was set to undergo surgery Monday to repair a broken bone in his right leg.

Let's focus on the trickle-down effect this has on the offensive line depth chart:

Marcus Cannon: The third-year player from Texas Christian has been the team's swing tackle this season and also has flexibility to play right guard. He replaced Vollmer in Sunday's game at right tackle and is now the projected starter going forward. Line coach Dante Scarnecchia was complimentary of Cannon in spring camps. "Love his physicality. Love his passion for the game," Scarnecchia said. "He’s a smart kid, a great kid to coach, he’s driven to be very good. I think he’s a really good tackle. ... He’s a special kid, a starting quality player. I love the kid."

Will Svitek: An eight-year veteran in his first season with the Patriots, Svitek now bumps up from No. 7 to No. 6 on the offensive line depth chart, meaning he will be the swing tackle. He also has flexibility to play right guard. Svitek represents good depth for the Patriots, having proven to be a capable fill-in in recent years with the Falcons (10 starts in 2011) and before that the Chiefs (4 starts in 2007). The Patriots signed Svitek to a one-year, $1 million contract in the offseason and that looks like a sound insurance policy right now.

Chris Barker: The undrafted rookie from Nevada is on the developmental track, having been inactive for the past five games. But the Patriots obviously see enough from him to want to keep him on the roster, as he's also cross-trained a bit at center. Because the Patriots generally go into games with seven offensive linemen, Barker would now likely become a candidate to be on the 46-man game-day roster as the seventh lineman if the team doesn't add another player at the position.

Braxston Cave/Jordan Devey/Josh Kline: The three offensive linemen create added layers of depth on the practice squad, and could be promoted to the active roster if the Patriots decide they want more insurance for game day. Cave and Kline are interior linemen, while Devey is a tackle.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

October, 27, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing a few thoughts at halftime, as the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 17-3:

Ugly half of football. This has been one of the Patriots' worst halves of the season. The tone was set by Tom Brady's interception on the team's second offensive play -- an inaccurate delivery to tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a bad throw by Brady, who might be dealing with discomfort with the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand.

Where's Ridley? Running back Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher in 2012, was limited to six snaps in the first half (not including final kneel-down) as the Patriots went mostly with Brandon Bolden (15 snaps), while mixing in LeGarrette Blount (starter who totaled 5 snaps). A bit of a head-scratcher there.

Cole over Ryan at cornerback. Without top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots started Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the position, with Marquice Cole playing the nickelback role. It was Cole who overran receiver Brandon Gibson on the Dolphins' first touchdown. The Patriots used rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in that role last week, but he hasn't played a defensive snap today, with Cole getting the nod over him.

Dolphins sparked by run. Miami ran the ball 21 times in the first half, and you wonder if the same approach would be taken if the Patriots had Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at defensive tackle, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker. The Patriots just aren't as sturdy in the front seven and the Dolphins are taking it to them. Credit goes to the Dolphins for executing and winning the critical situations.

Injury report. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a right leg injury and has already been ruled out. Looked like the season-ending type, but that hasn't been confirmed. That thrusts third-year player Marcus Cannon into the statring mix at right tackle, with veteran Will Svitek now the top backup.

Patriots get the ball. The Patriots had won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will receive the opening kickoff of the second half. The home crowd booed the Patriots as they kneeled on the ball at the end of the second quarter.

W2W4: Dolphins at Patriots

October, 25, 2013
With Rob Gronkowski returning to the field in Week 7, the speculation that previously permeated throughout each week about his availability no longer exists. As Gronkowski said Wednesday, his focus can be geared toward the upcoming opponent and not become distracted by questions about whether he’ll be available to play on Sunday.

His return was an impactful one, despite the team falling in overtime, as he hauled in eight catches for 114 yards.

But while they got back arguably their best player not named Tom Brady, the Patriots aren’t entirely out of the woods yet on the injury front. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/groin) has practiced on a limited basis this week and is listed as questionable to play Sunday. Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), who has also practiced on a limited basis this week, also is questionable for Week 8.

The Patriots always put a premium on division games, and they’ll play their fourth of the season on Sunday and their first against the Miami Dolphins, who were hopeful to make the leap this season after a 7-9 campaign in 2012. While the Patriots are looking to bounce back from a disappointing Week 7 loss, the Dolphins are try to break a three-game losing streak and climb back above .500.

When the two square off on Sunday, here’s what we’ll be looking for.

1. Talib and Amendola’s availability. Amendola was the team’s most notable offseason acquisition, while Talib has proven to be an indispensable member of this defense. Getting both of them back for Sunday would be a boon for the Patriots, as the offense needs Amendola to help kick-start its production, while Talib is playing like one of the best cornerbacks in all of football. The Dolphins haven’t been able to generate much on the ground this season, but with a receiving corps that features Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and a capable slot presence in Brandon Gibson, getting Talib back would be a big step in slowing down their passing game. Two players we know the Patriots won’t have: defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle), who have been ruled out by the team.

2. Can Brady find his rhythm? Brady hasn’t lost any confidence despite recent struggles, as he shouldn’t have. That being said, the veteran quarterback needs to raise his level of play as the season progresses, as he’s completed fewer than 56 percent of his throws. The Patriots' offense has dealt with moving parts, but the potential to have Gronkowski and Amendola on the field at the same time opens things up. Can the offense get it going against a Dolphins defense that made steep investments on players at all three levels this offseason?

3. Exposing the Dolphins' pass protection. The Dolphins made the decision to pass on Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson when they traded up to the third pick in this year’s draft to grab defensive end Dion Jordan. With second-year player Jonathan Martin struggling, the team acted on a trade opportunity to acquire veteran Bryant McKinnie from Baltimore this past week, which could eventually swing Martin over to the right side and move Tyson Clabo into a reserve role. Regardless of who mans the left side, the Patriots have an opportunity to generate pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Veteran Andre Carter, signed this week, isn’t likely to start for the team, but he could be an effective edge rusher with a natural nose for the quarterback.

4. Containing the Dolphins' pass rush. By the numbers, the Dolphins' pass rush hasn’t been particularly strong, but that’s due in part to time missed by standout Cameron Wake, who is now healthy after dealing with a knee issue earlier this season. Bill Belichick said of Wake: “He’s just a good football player. I don’t think there’s any one thing that just jumps off about him. It’s just all solid and good. He plays strong, he’s athletic, he’s active. He can rush the edge but he can also rush with power. He’s got a good variety of moves.” Wake, who primarily aligns on the defense’s left side, will be the responsibility of Sebastian Vollmer to contain. Vollmer has been his usual solid self this season, and Sunday will mark yet another test for the towering right tackle.

5. Punt game in focus. Dolphins punter Brandon Fields leads the league in both gross and net punting, a testament to both his strong leg and directional punting ability. But the Dolphins have allowed an average of 9.9 yards per return, which could be tied to Fields at times outkicking his coverage. Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is the NFL's active leader in punt-return average, and he had a brilliant return against the Jets last weekend. He’s the only NFL player to return a punt for a touchdown in each of the past three seasons, and he may have a chance to find space and room to maneuver if Fields unloads on a punt.

Reiss' P.A.T.: Talking to Sebastian Vollmer

October, 3, 2013

In this week's "Reiss' P.A.T.", Mike Reiss delivers the latest news, catches up with offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and answers your twitter questions.