FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots made a surprising adjustment when they lost left tackle Nate Solder on Sunday.
Instead of bringing backup tackle Will Svitek off the bench, they moved Logan Mankins from left guard to left tackle, and rookie guard Josh Kline came off the sideline. Mankins had some experience at left tackle in the NFL, but it was limited to just 12 snaps in 2011 when Matt Light was a surprise inactive. Mankins suffered a knee injury in that Week 16 game against the Dolphins that forced him to miss Week 17 and hobbled him for the playoff run.
Due to Light’s similar size, Mankins said he will try to emulate his former teammate if he’s asked to play the left tackle again on Sunday against the Ravens.
“I always watched Matt Light all those years,” Mankins said. “We’re kind of the same size. When I’m out there, I should try to do what he did.”
Solder missed last Wednesday’s practice with a concussion before returning for Thursday and Friday’s sessions and starting on Sunday in Miami. With 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Solder took an inadvertent knee to the head from Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. Solder collapsed to the field and missed the remainder of the action. He was declared out with a “head injury.”
Mankins said the team has “a bunch of different options” to fill in for Solder, if needed. He said he practiced at left guard and left tackle on Wednesday.
“It’s a lot of different angles, going against faster guys,” Mankins said about the switch. “I’m used to the more powerful guys. Now I’ve got speed guys on the edge. It’s just something I had to get used to and learn on the fly on Sunday. It went pretty well, though. So, we’ll see. I don’t know what our plan is this week.”
The move did go well for Mankins. He did not allow any pressures after he switched to left tackle. New England ran the ball just three times after Solder got hurt.
Mankins went up against Dolphins defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan in his quarter of action at tackle last week. If he has to play left tackle against Baltimore, he will have an even bigger challenge on his hands: Terrell Suggs.
When Mankins was drafted by the Patriots, they moved him from left tackle to left guard. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said he thinks Mankins could have played tackle in the NFL, but the team already had Light at the position.
“Logan has a lot of versatility and certainly when we watched him at Fresno [State] it was all left tackle,” Belichick said. “I think there’s no question that he could have played left tackle in this league, played for us. But we had Light there, we put him into the lineup right away at left guard and he and Light played together for [six] years and then we got Solder and that was kind of the way it worked out. I don’t think there was ever a thought from the coaching staff or from myself that he couldn’t play left tackle. That’s wasn’t it. It was more, ‘We have a left tackle and he could play guard.’ Then the whole Light-Solder transition, we actually had two left tackles in ’11. As opposed to Light who we drafted as a left tackle, looked at him at right tackle and guard — two brilliant moves on my part — and then figured out that he was one of the better left tackles in the league for the next decade. I think it could have easily worked out that way with Logan had the circumstances been different. But that’s what it was.”
When Light missed five games with injuries in 2009, the Patriots moved Sebastian Vollmer over to the left side and played Nick Kaczur at right tackle. Vollmer is out for the season with a leg injury.
Belichick compared Mankins to players like Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Ogden, Damien Woody and Solder, who were forced to play different positions early in their careers. Wilfork played defensive end while Ted Washington was taking up the nose tackle role. Solder played tight end while Light was still around. In Mankins’ case, the position change stuck.
Mankins has the versatility to move one spot over from guard to tackle, but don’t expect the All-Pro to fill in for Rob Gronkowski.
“I can catch, I don’t know if I could get open,” Mankins said smiling when asked if he can play tight end.