If there was one negative to take from the Patriots' preseason opener, it was the pressure the Patriots were allowing up front. That's not to say there isn't a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Patriots were missing three All-Pros against the Saints with Sebastian Vollmer (back) and Logan Mankins (knee) injured on the sidelines and Brian Waters at home, having not reported to the team yet.
Marcus Cannon, Donald Thomas and Dan Connolly played in place of the three starters from 2011 and their play was a mixed bag. Mankins should be back with the team before the start of the season, and since there's been no word of retirement from Waters, he should be expected back as well.
Vollmer is a different story, though. His back issues seem to have become a chronic problem, and reports from training camp are that he's still moving around gingerly.
Marcus Cannon should be considered a fringe starter on this team regardless of whether Vollmer is ready for the beginning of the season or not. He'll need to be counted on at any time to fill in for Vollmer.
The next position the Patriots will need to solve is at center. Dan Koppen hasn't looked great in training camp and struggled on Thursday night as a starter. The Patriots offensive line looked better overall when Ryan Wendell replaced the veteran. Koppen's lack of positional versatility may actually keep him off the Patriots 53-man roster as a surprise cut.
Koppen was given every chance to sign with another team this offseason and eventually signed a two-year contract worth $3.05 million with just $350,000 guaranteed as a signing bonus. Last season, Connolly, Wendell and Nick McDonald all proved themselves to be worthy starters at the center position. Connolly and Wendell can also contribute at guard and McDonald can play any position on the offensive line.
Nate Solder appeared to struggle at times on Thursday night, committing two holding penalties in limited time. There are many reasons not to panic over Solder's performance, as he's just a second-year player who was playing in his first game in six months. Rust should be expected, especially with young players coming off of long breaks. Solder also obviously missed Mankins out there. Finally, offensive lines are notoriously behind the development of the defensive line early in the preseason. When you often have a patchwork unit working together for the first time, those problems will be more evident.
While Bill Belichick should use this game as a teaching tool for the Patriots' developing young offensive linemen, it's no reason to panic. Once the starters return, Brady will be able to stay up on two feet. If the starters don't return, the young guys are getting plenty of valuable reps in game situations and are bound to improve as they get more comfortable with one another.
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