As NFL teams gather for the first time preparing for the 2012 season so do the New England Patriots. While improvements have been made to the NFL’s top offense, one usually stable part of that offense will be an issue in 2012.
During his 11-year stint as starting quarterback for the Patriots, Tom Brady has had the luxury of a strong and consistent offensive line. This year though, that line will be questionable with several pieces missing. It started with the retirement of Matt Light who had protected Brady’s blindside for the entirety of his career. Logan Mankins is recovering from a torn ACL and Brain Waters is contemplating retirement.
The only starter from Super Bowl XLVI on the Patriots offensive line who was on the top offense line unit was Dan Connolly. After suffering a broken leg during last year’s season opener, Dan Koppen lost his starting spot to Connolly and will have to win it back during training camp.
Tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who missed much of last season with back and ankle injuries, did not participate during Thursday’s activities. In his place, 2011 fifth round draft pick Marcus Cannon played right tackle Thursday and Nate Solder took over for the recently retired Matt Light as he will during the season.
With Mankins and Vollmer coming back from significant injuries, Waters possibly retiring, and Solder and Cannon being new starters, the Patriots offensive line will be unstable heading into the 2012 season. The Patriots did acquire veteran Robert Gallery who, along with 2008 undrafted free agent Ryan Wendell, flanked Connolly as guards Thursday. However, that only leaves two players who are experienced and were healthy in 2011.
Additions to the Patriots offense this offseason at wide receiver will mean the team will not have to depend as much on tight ends in 2012. The Patriots have an inexperienced backup at quarterback so Brady’s health will be of the utmost importance. One option to keep Brady on his feet could be to start using the tight ends in more blocking schemes than as receivers as they did in 2011.
The seven men in front of Brady in 2012 will look much different than they did in 2011. For a team where the loss of the starting quarterback could mean the season, instability on that line is a problem. The Patriots are hoping that everyone will be back and healthy by September but if not, some personnel decisions will have to be made.