- Jeffri Chadiha, NFL
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The hype surrounding the arrivals of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth in New England has obscured the fact that the Patriots have a few rising stars worthy of attention. One such player is right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Vollmer is not as recognizable as quarterback Tom Brady or defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, but he's quietly making his mark on the NFL. The problem Vollmer has is that few fans outside of New England actually have been noticing that. Vollmer is the best offensive lineman most people don't know anything about.
He's so good he was named second-team All-Pro last season after becoming a full-time starter in just his second season. Vollmer's anonymity kept him out of the Pro Bowl, though, despite the fact that he played on a team that finished 14-2. This is the way the 27-year-old Vollmer's brief career has played out. You have to be paying close attention to realize how big a difference he's made for New England's offensive line.
The nice thing about Vollmer is that his relative invisibility doesn't bother him one bit. He understands that linemen seldom generate headlines, and that players in New England speak to the media so infrequently it often feels like they're under a court order. At this stage, Vollmer is just appreciative of a career that has evolved faster than anybody anticipated.
"I try not to expect anything because you never know what will happen," Vollmer said when asked if he's surprised by his success. "I've always taken the approach that if you take care of the little things in life, the bigger stuff will come in the end."
It's hard to think anybody could ever miss Vollmer. He stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 315 pounds. He moves with the natural agility of a much smaller man, and he's a fast learner. You're talking about a guy who grew up in Dusseldorf, Germany, and didn't enter organized American football until he was 14. Before that, Vollmer spent most of his childhood playing soccer and swimming competitively.
The only reason Vollmer drifted toward football was that he missed the team dynamic he enjoyed during his soccer-playing days. He quickly discovered he had the size to dominate in the game and the determination to grow up in a hurry.
"There were a lot of things that I had to catch up on in those days, including the rules," Vollmer said. "I remember when I first started, I actually went to the library to get a book on terminology. I was trying to understand what it meant when they said it was third-and-10. I wasn't smooth at all."
The beauty of football at lower levels is that natural ability can do wonders for one's confidence. In Vollmer's case, he became a tight end who rarely caught passes but excelled at manhandling opponents. When he made a German all-star team at the age of 16, he attracted attention from American college recruiters after the squad competed in San Diego.
Before long, Vollmer accepted a scholarship at the University of Houston and slid into a new role as an offensive tackle.
There were many nights in college when Vollmer -- who didn't speak any English when he came to the United States -- again had to hustle to keep up. He'd sit in his dorm room studying the alphabet and vocabulary words just to communicate with teammates and coaches.
"One of the good things about playing was that the terms weren't foreign to me there," Vollmer said. "All the playbook stuff was like learning English and the conversations on the field were short and simple. Now when it came to sitting in the locker room and talking about dinner plans -- that was a different story."
Vollmer wouldn't be where he is today if the Patriots hadn't been so thorough in their scouting. He wasn't invited to the NFL combine, and only caught the eye of Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia because Scarnecchia ran the pro day workout at Houston following Vollmer's senior year in 2009.
Vollmer actually was so uncertain about his draft stock that he didn't watch the event. When the Patriots called to say he was their second-round pick that year, he knew his work was cut out for him. "I knew it was a good thing, but I wanted to make sure I stayed there," Vollmer said.
That hasn't been a problem so far. He learned from veteran teammates during his rookie year and started eight games (five filling in for Matt Light at left tackle, three more at right tackle). The following offseason, Vollmer won the right tackle job and was part of a Patriots offensive line that allowed just 25 sacks.
Vollmer was so focused on improving that he didn't even know about the All-Pro honor when it was first announced. Patriots guard Stephen Neal alerted him later that morning when he told Vollmer to check the day's newspaper.
These days, Vollmer is back in familiar territory. He's honing his skills and perfecting his chemistry with fellow linemen while New England's bigger stars deal with interview requests. That's fine with Vollmer, because, as he said, "I'm not where I want to be and I won't stop until I get there."
Judging by how far he's come, though, it won't be long before people want more of his spare time.
Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.
New England Patriots OT Sebastian Vollmer grew up in German and didn't play football until he was 14, and now he's the best NFL lineman you've never heard of, writes Jeffri Chadiha.