Patriots by position: Offensive line
|01.25.10 at 11:10 pm ET|
As the Patriots offseason gets rolling, we’ll present a snapshot of the team by position. We’ve already hit on the running backs, tight ends, wide receivers and quarterbacks. Today, we wrap up the offense by putting the offensive line in the spotlight:
On the roster: Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Nick Kaczur, Sebastian Vollmer, Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger, Mark LeVoir, Ryan Wendell.
Stat standouts: Mankins was named a second-team All-Pro, and was named to his second Pro Bowl.
2009, in three sentences: Terrific. The New England offensive line had arguably the finest season of any position group — Brady was sacked just 16 times on the regular season, the lowest total of his career, and Patriots signal-callers were sacked a total of just 18 times in the 2009 regular season, the third-best number in the league. The run game didn’t always have the same results (middle of the pack in most major categories), but considering the fact that they spent the bulk of the season shuffling guys in and out because of injury, the linemen still get an overall thumbs-up.
By the numbers (all courtesy of Gary from Chapel Hill): Three: The Patriots allowed sacks on just three percent of passing plays in 2009, the lowest percentage by a Patriots’ team in the last 40 years. 12: The Pats were flagged for 12 offensive holding penalties in 2009 (tied for 12th most in the NFL and the most by a Pats team in three seasons), but only nine of them were committed by offensive linemen: Mankins (3), Vollmer (2), Neal (2), Koppen (1), Light (1). Zero: Kaczur had no penalties of any kind called on him this season in 13 starts and 955 snaps. He is the only NFL offensive tackle in the last three seasons (at least) to play more than 750 snaps and not get penalized.
Money quote: “John (Hannah) was a special player, from what I’ve heard. Dante [Scarnecchia], my offensive line coach, was here when John played, so he’s told me a lot about John, and I’ve talked to John a lot. I don’t think anybody has anything bad to say about the way that guy played football. He was a special player. … He says he likes the way I play, so the way I play must be the right way if John likes it.” —Mankins, speaking about his connection with fellow left guard and Hall of Famer John Hannah.
The skinny: For a unit that has been built in many ways on continuity and consistency, the New England offensive line saw some changes this season, and could see even more in 2010. Among the regulars the last few years — Light, Mankins, Koppen, Neal and Kaczur — the Patriots could have at least two new starters and maybe three in 2010. Light is entering the final year of his contract, and the longest-tenured member of the line could be playing elsewhere by 2011. In addition, Neal openly discussed retirement after the playoff loss to the Ravens.
As for potential full-time new faces, Vollmer came on very strong down the stretch, and should be playing one of the two tackle positions at the start of the 2010 season. The versatile Connolly (who has played guard, center and fullback) and Ohrnberger will get the opportunity to move up the depth chart if Neal does retire, while Ohrnberger could also push Koppen at the center position. LeVoir and Wendell provide depth.
And then, there’s Mankins. A restricted free agent in a looming uncapped year, he has quickly become one of the best in the league. Consistent, durable and mean, he has never missed a game in his five-year career, and is the heart of the New England offensive line. The Patriots figure to do whatever it takes to keep him in the fold.
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