FOXBORO, Mass. — With experience comes expectation. After Dan Connolly's first season as a full-time starter, the Patriots offensive lineman will demand even more of himself in 2011.
"One thing that is different is I have much higher expectations for myself," Connolly said about the comparison from this season to last. "I started last year, so I have to improve from where I was last year. That's where I'm at."
At this time last year, Connolly was one of a handful of candidates to replace left guard Logan Mankins, whose holdout kept everyone guessing about his status with the organization. Connolly emerged as the best player from the group that also included Nick Kaczur, Ryan Wendell, Rich Ohrnberger, Ted Larsen and Quinn Ojinnaka.
When Mankins returned in time for the eighth game, Connolly moved to right guard to fill in for Stephen Neal, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder ailment. Connolly showed an admirable amount of versatility, and he was equally dependable.
Now, he's got the luxury of preparing for one position, as he'll replace Neal on a permanent basis after the long-time starter retired. But despite the fact that Connolly has played a vast majority of his snaps at right guard in training camp, he said he's not ignoring the possibility that he could still fill in at left guard or even center in the event of an injury.
"I still try to prepare myself for anything," said Connolly, who hurt his right elbow in Monday's practice but didn't appear overly concerned. "Going into a game, we're limited with the number of guys that we can play with. If somebody gets hurt, we've got to move around. I try to keep myself ready to play any position."