FOXBORO, Mass. — It's starting to get real for Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly.
Due to Logan Mankins' contract situation and Nick Kaczur's back injury, Connolly is the most NFL-ready reserve guard on New England's roster, and it appears as though the starting spot on the left side should be his to lose.
"Everything is an opportunity when you get a chance to play," Connolly said Monday. "I'm going to take it in full stride and do the best I can."
Connolly started four games at right guard last season for the injured Stephen Neal, but the sixth-year lineman doesn’t have any game experience on the left side. He's practiced at left guard throughout training camp, but due to the reps he's recently seen, it's possible the coaching staff believes he is a better fit at right guard — although, that’s still Neal's job these days.
Nevertheless, Connolly feels comfortable making the transition from one side to another.
"It's not difficult," said Connolly, who has also appeared at center for the Patriots. "I prepare myself to know all three inside spots. When the time comes and I need to switch, I'm ready for it."
Connolly has a decisive edge in experience over Ryan Wendell, who has only played in two career games but has seen a recent spike in reps at left guard. The two are in competition for that spot now that it appears as though Kaczur might take a while to get back on the field, if he's able to return at all.
For the time being, Connolly has appreciated his chance to line up with the first team, especially when he's staring in the face of Vince Wilfork on any given play.
"It's good because then I'm going against better competition and seeing what I'm going to see on Sunday," Connolly said.
Mankins, who is a restricted free agent, has held down the starting job at left guard since 2005, but since demanding a trade and failing to sign his contract tender, that spot has been up for grabs. There's no telling whether or not Kaczur's injury will force the Patriots to try a little harder to sign Mankins, but the two sides aren’t exactly on the greatest of terms.
With that, it's on Connolly to make sure he's ready to play, and if the Patriots need him at left guard, he is working to make sure there's no drop-off in production from last season.
"Logan is a good football player, and he does a lot of good things on the field," Connolly said. "Trying to play as well as he has played in that spot is something I strive for."