Logan Mankins' contract situation isn?t the only storyline surrounding the Patriots' offensive line during the offseason. With such depth and versatile talent, the competition in training camp for starting jobs promises to be interesting. So, what would be the Patriots' best offensive line combination?
Obviously, Mankins' decisions change things. After publicly bashing the organization and demanding a trade, it seems unlikely he'll make an impact in New England in 2010. Whether the Patriots heed his trade request, he holds out, or they just tell him to take a walk, let's work under the assumption that the Pats will have a new starter at left guard for the first time since 2004.
We can knock out two of the five starters right away. Center Dan Koppen has been the team's starter for seven seasons, and right guard Stephen Neal, who has been the starter when healthy since 2004, is back again.
From there, it gets a little trickier. During the Patriots' offseason practices, the other three starters were Matt Light (left tackle), Nick Kaczur (left guard) and Sebastian Vollmer (right tackle). At this point, that looks like head coach Bill Belichick's ideal group of starters, but there could be some variables.
Dan Connolly will contend at left guard, and it's absolutely a job he could win. Likewise, Mark LeVoir could potentially make a charge for one of the tackle positions.
Vollmer, who was wildly impressive as a rookie, projects to be the Patriots' best offensive lineman in 2010, and that would, in theory, make him the best fit as the team's left tackle. However, Belichick seems to loathe the idea of putting Light on the right side, citing Light's failure over there earlier in his career. Since Light is better on left than either Kaczur or LeVoir are on the right, Light will anchor Tom Brady's blind side and Vollmer will likely hold down the right.
Another intriguing combination would put Vollmer at left tackle, Connolly at left guard and Kaczur at right tackle. But again, that keeps Light on the bench, and that doesn?t really appease Belichick.
At the very least, the Patriots are extremely versatile, with Vollmer, Connolly and Kaczur being able to fill multiple positions. New England would still be strong in the trenches if it lost a key member of its line because there are so many suitable combinations.
Heading into the season, look for Light, Kaczur, Koppen, Neal and Vollmer to start from left to right, as that is Belichick's most ideal combination on the offensive line.
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