The 53-man roster is now set for the New England Patriots, and a cause for concern is still the team’s offensive line. The most important player on the team is quarterback Tom Brady and his health is essential to the team’s success. But retirements, injuries, and inexperience make his protection a question mark.
In 2011 Brady had the luxury of having one of the league’s strongest offensive lines. But that line has been depleted heading into 2012. Last season the Patriots were anchored by veterans Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Brian Waters. Light has since retired and Waters looks to be gone as well, leaving Mankins as the only one of the three returning. The team has two young tackles in Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. but Solder has developed at a slower pace than head coach Bill Belichick would like.
In 2011 Dan Connolly was originally a backup to Dan Koppen. So far in his seven-year career, Connolly has yet to feature prominently for any team. Koppen was one of the Patriots surprise cuts. A member of four AFC Championship teams and two Super Bowl winning teams, the 2007 All-Pro center sat out almost the entirety of the 2011 season with a fractured ankle. Koppen’s absence leaves Connolly as a key veteran for the Patriots this season.
There is very little experience at the NFL level for any of the other four linemen. Ryan Wendell has battled to keep a spot on the active roster since be signed in 2008 as an undrafted free agent. Nick McDonald is a third-year player who was promoted to the active roster on December 3 for the first time in his professional career. Donald Thomas was a 2008 draft pick by the New York Jets but suffered a fractured foot. He was signed by the Patriots in 2011 to replace Koppen and made his first appearance due to an injury to Mankins. Marcus Cannon was drafted by the Patriots in 2011 but missed the majority of the season while undergoing chemotherapy. He made his NFL debut late last season.
The New England Patriots offensive line has been one of the team’s bright spots each year since 2001. It’s been their job to keep Brady on his feet and over the past eleven seasons they’ve done a good job. But 2012 will see the most dramatic turnover in offensive line personnel and a significant decrease in NFL experience. With their job being to keep the team’s most important player safe from harm, it’s certainly something that will worry the Patriots this coming season.