New England's offensive line has been a model of consistency in recent years. With the exception of a few injuries, the starting unit of left tackle Matt Light, left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Nick Kaczur remained intact for the last five seasons.
That?s just not going to be the case anymore. Let's take a look at the Patriots' offensive line heading into training camp.
Offensive Linemen on Roster: George Bussey, Dan Connolly, Nick Kaczur, Dan Koppen, Ted Larsen, Mark LeVoir, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal, Rich Ohrnberger, Sebastian Vollmer, Thomas Welch, Ryan Wendell, John Wise
Available Roster Spots: Nine, but it can range between eight and 10
Key Statistic: The Patriots only allowed 18 sacks last season, which ranked third in the NFL, and their 1,921 rushing yards ranked 12th.
Position Battle to Watch: There will almost certainly be a new left guard in town. Kaczur and Connolly are leading the way in that department, and Larsen is the long shot. Assuming Light is healthy enough to start at left tackle, Vollmer will assume Kaczur's spot at right tackle, and the Patriots have experimented by moving Kaczur to the interior. Connolly started four games at right guard when Neal was injured in 2009, so he might be a more natural fit for the position. The battle for the starting job is wide open, though.
Hot Topic: Obviously, the reason for the vacancy at left guard has to do with Mankins, who demanded a trade after refusing to sign his restricted free-agency tender. Because there haven?t been any efforts to resolve this issue, it looks like the Patriots are saying "good riddance" to Mankins. They control his rights for another season, and so far, it doesn?t appear as though they are in any rush to unload him.
At this point, the front office might be content with letting Mankins sit, wait and crawl back with his tail between his legs so this doesn?t become an issue again in 2011. As training camp progresses and injuries occur around the league, however, teams will develop new needs, and that could spark a trade that isn't currently on the radar.
In any event, Mankins sounds insulted. The Patriots are probably insulted too, and no one is budging.
Friday, July 23: Tight Ends