Perhaps the most important and unheralded position in the NFL is the offensive line.
Do a great job and the quarterback will most likely get the praise publicly. Do a bad job and be prepared to hear all about how the quarterback has no protection.
Offensive linemen are the kind of guys that don’t need praise. They don’t showboat. They just put their head down and feet forward in hopes to give the guy behind them enough time to throw or enough room to run.
But the offensive line has been a bit of an issue for the Patriots over the years. The days of Matt Light, Dan Koppen, and Logan Mankins are gone.
And that was never more apparent than it was in last year’s AFC Championship Game, when a banged up and over-matched Patriots offensive line allowed the Broncos to hit Tom Brady 17 times and sack him four times.
Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo became the fall guy, and he was fired by the team right after that loss.
Was it more of a coaching issue or a personnel issue? The Patriots will get that answer soon.
Dante Scarnecchia, who coached the Patriots offensive line from 1999 to 2013 before retiring, is back with the team once again as the offensive line coach.
Center Bryan Stork, once thought of as a building block on the team’s offensive line, was released during camp. Sebastian Vollmer could miss the entire season due to a hip injury.
So who will step up and step in the way of defensive lineman licking their chops to get to Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady?
The good news is that tackle Nate Solder is healthy again. Torn biceps ended Solder’s 2015 season after just four games. He will now try to anchor a line looking to have a big rebound season.
How much help will he get? Well, the Patriots were able to release Stork due to the play of center David Andrews. Rookie left guard Joe Thuney should line up next to him, as he’s put together a strong camp, even earning praise from Bill Belichick.
Marcus Cannon will be relied upon more than ever as the main replacement for Vollmer at the right tackle position. The Patriots have stuck with Cannon a lot longer than many thought or wanted, but this will certainly be a make or break year after a disappointing 2015. And this time, the versatile Cannon is in the position that they feel suits him best.
“There were other circumstances and because of his athleticism, his intelligence, his versatility, a lot of times he was the guy making the move,” Belichick told reporters earlier in camp of Cannon’s previous position changes. “But I think we’ve got him in a good spot now.”
The Patriots added to the offensive line over the offseason when they traded Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals for guard Jonathan Cooper and a second round draft pick. Cooper was injured in camp which slowed his progression with the team, but he can expect a bigger role going into the season as the Patriots on Tuesday reportedly traded guard Josh Kline to the Eagles for defensive back Eric Rowe.
LaAdrrian Waddle, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming, and Tre’ Jackson round out the Patriots offensive line depth. Mason was seen wearing a cast on his arm Tuesday at practice. Jackson is currently on the reserve/PUP list, which means he’ll miss at least the first six weeks of the season.