It was just a year ago that Patriots offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer was being regarded as one of the best linemen in all of football. But after a 2011 campaign marred by injuries and mediocre play, the mammoth right tackle has been seemingly lost among the success of a Super Bowl season.
Vollmer, who was sidelined for much of the season with recurring back problems, missed 10 games during the regular season and both of the Patriots' postseason games. The 6-foot-8, 320-pound behemoth had widely become a forgotten figure around New England with the emergence of rookie Nate Solder and many fans didn't expect the 2010 second-team All-Pro selection back at all this year.
Well, the Patriots right tackle has finally returned to health and just in time for the biggest game of the season and possibly even Vollmer's career.
The Giants boast one of the NFL's best pass rushes with a bevy of big, athletic linemen. The combination of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Matthias Kiwanuka and even interior lineman Chris Canty can be more than a handful for opposing lines and an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks — just as they were for Tom Brady earlier this season.
But Brady's front line was nowhere near at full strength during that game. In fact, the Patriots' offensive line was more than just bitten by the injury bug in 2011, they were damn near plagued by it.
The troops began falling from the very start of the season, as starting center Dan Koppen was lost for the season with an ankle injury in Week 1. And the problems just spread from there, as backup centers Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell both went down for spells. Guard Logan Mankins and left tackle Matt Light each suffered through his own ailment, with both missing time towards the end of the year.
Then there was Vollmer, who just couldn't seem to put together a steady patch without injury.
This time around, the Patriots line is about as healthy as they've been all season and the signs of wear and tear seem to be a thing of the past. And now with Vollmer back in the mix, the Pats may be in their best position to stifle a terrorizing Giants attack.
Rotating the still-healing Vollmer with a healthy Solder on the right side could pay huge dividends in keeping the line fresh throughout and protecting Brady. The option of using the German monster, Vollmer, as an added blocker in the Patriots' dreaded three tight end set in certain packages could also prove an overwhelming weapon against the athleticism of Big Blue's front four.
The Patriots have come quite a ways since their early season stumbles — in Buffalo, Pittsburgh and even against these very New York Giants — but it wasn't without some solid line play that they've climbed and clawed their way back to the top.
The Giants may have laid down a whupping on Brady and the Patriots in their 24-20 Week 9 win, but the Patriots are in a much better — and healthier — spot now than they were then.
Health is certainly the buzz word for the Patriots offensive line this go around, and Vollmer may just be the key to a win. If the former All-Pro tackle can show even shades of his 2010 form on Sunday, then a Tom Brady-led offense should have no problem putting up plenty of points against the Giants' secondary.
While Belichick cooks up a scheme to help his line keep Brady upright on Sunday, Vollmer's presence — even in a limited capacity — will go a long way in protecting TB12 and giving the Pats a legitimate shot at taking home their fourth Lombardi trophy.
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