FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick knows which players will start on his offensive line Sunday in the New England Patriots’ season opener against the Miami Dolphins, but the head coach isn’t about to leak any intel early.
Belichick faces the unenviable task — one he put himself in — of finding a replacement for Mankins, a five-time All-Pro left guard. Belichick has plenty of options at his disposal, but none seem perfect.
“We know how we’re going to play the game,” Belichick said about aligning his offensive line. “Like anything else we do, we always have contingency plans if something happens to somebody, and I think that we have a lot of good players at that position on the offensive line. We’ll see how we end up playing them, but we could end up playing more than five.”
Belichick could use fourth-year pro Marcus Cannon at left guard, Ryan Wendell at center and Dan Connolly at right guard, but last year’s offensive line struggled, and the Wendell-Connolly combination was at the core of those troubles. Connolly is a recently named captain, so it’s unlikely that he would come out of the starting offense, which could make Wendell the odd man out.
The Patriots could elect to use Connolly at center (his natural position), Cannon at guard and either second-year pros Jordan Devey or Josh Kline, both of whom saw many opportunities during the preseason, at the other guard spot. Belichick hinted at a rotation of offensive linemen, so it’s possible that we see Cannon, Wendell, Connolly, Kline, Devey, Vollmer and starting left tackle Nate Solder.
There were rumors that the Patriots discussed moving Vollmer from starting right tackle to left guard, but that might not be wise against Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, a pair of imposing Dolphins defensive ends. Belichick didn’t comment on the possibility of moving Vollmer.
“We have five linemen. We’ll play them the way we think gives us the best chance of winning,” Belichick said when asked if Vollmer would be used primarily in Mankins’ old spot.
It’s no surprise that Belichick isn’t willing to give the Dolphins any early inside info. We’ll find out which players Belichick decided on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images</em