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With no Mankins, Connolly will be in spotlight

06.14.10 at 4:39 pm ET
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Whether it will be as result of a holdout or trade, if the Patriots are forced to go without Logan Mankins at left guard for the foreseeable future, expect to see a lot of Dan Connolly.

Connolly, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Southeast Missouri State when he signed with Jacksonville in 2005, took the majority of snaps at the left guard spot with the starting offense during the most recent round of OTAs, and has a couple of years experience in the New England system as an interior lineman.

The 25-year-old is 6-foot-4, 313-pounder who is set to enter his fifth season in the NFL and his third with the Patriots. After being waived by Jacksonville in Sept. 1, 2007, Connolly was signed to the Patriots’€™ practice squad on Sept. 13, 2007, where he spent the remainder of the season before being re-signed to a future contract on Feb. 5, 2008.

He was then waived by the Patriots on Oct. 20, 2008, and was re-signed to New England’€™s practice squad on October 22. He was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 13, 2008, and has been a part of the 53-man roster ever since. Since then, Connolly has stepped into the role of No. 1 backup, and started four games last season when right guard Stephen Neal went down with an injured Stephen Neal. In fact, he participated in every offensive snap in Week 11, 13, 14 and 15 for the Patriots at right guard, according to our friends at Pro Football Focus, and was the likely candidate to take over at right guard if Neal had decided to retire. Connolly also played some center when Dan Koppen was out.

Connolly garnered praise from Patriots coach Bill Belichick after stepping in for Koppen during a November win over the Dolphins, and was rewarded with a contract extension last year that will keep him in Foxboro through the 2011 season.

‘€œI thought Dan Connolly did a real good job of playing when he’€™s had an opportunity,’€™’€™ Belichick said. ‘€œI said after the game, I think Dan’€™s a pretty fast healer and hopefully he’€™ll be back out there soon.’€

‘€œI’€™ve taken so many snaps from [Koppen] over the years and we have such great communication between the two of us and he’€™s one of my best friends on the team,’€™’€™ Tom Brady told WEEI when he was asked about working with Connolly instead of Koppen. ‘€œDan [Connolly] stepped in and really played very well. It’€™s always tough to do and that center-quarterback exchange is something that you have no play if you can’€™t get that.’€™’€™

While Connolly has proven to be durable when given the chance, it’€™ll be a tall order to try and replace what Mankins has given the Patriots ‘€” in his five seasons in New England, the Pro Bowler hasn’€™t missed a single game, and only missed nine offensive snaps this past season.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins, Tom Brady
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