Examining what could be next for the Patriots at left guard
|08.07.10 at 1:30 am ET|
If the report of Nick Kaczur suffering a “significant” back injury is correct, it will leave the Patriots even thinner at a position — left guard — where they are already lacking depth.
Pro Bowler Logan Mankins, currently locked in a contract imbroglio with the franchise, hasn’t reported for training camp. Kaczur, who had been primarily used as a tackle through his NFL career, took the majority of reps at Mankins’ old spot throughout the early stages of camp, and it looked like he could enter the season as the starter.
But with Kaczur lost to injury — he’s now missed the last 11 training camp practices, not including walkthroughs — much of the responsibility would shift to Dan Connolly, Connolly has seen many of the reps at left guard since Kaczur went down, and it figures Connolly, a career backup interior lineman, would move into the full-time starters’ spot at left guard if Kaczur is out for a significant period of time.
Connolly is a 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. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Southeast Missouri State when he signed with Jacksonville in 2005, and after being waived by the Jags on 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.
Connolly was then waived by the Patriots on Oct. 20 that year 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 among interior linemen, and started four games last season when right guard Stephen Neal went down late last year. In fact, he participated in every offensive snap in Week 11, 13, 14 and 15 for the Patriots at right guard, 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, who has also seen some time as a goal-line fullback since he joined New England, 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.
The promotion of Connolly to full-time starter would also mean that backup interior linemen Ryan Wendell (two career games), Rich Ohrberger (three career games) and rookie Ted Larsen, as well as the recently acquired Eric Ghiaciuc would move up the depth chart as well. Ghiaciuc, who was recently signed as a free agent, might be one who benefits the most from the move — a former Bengal who has lined up at center and guard, Ghiaciuc played in 48 career games with 42 starts from 2005 to 2008, and easily has the most NFL experience in the group.
Two other things worth discussing here:
While the left guard spot has been a mishmash since the start of camp, the rest of the offensive line is actually pretty solid. Matt Light (left tackle), Dan Koppen (center), Stephen Neal (right guard) and Sebastian Vollmer (right tackle) all have good experience at their positions (Vollmer is the youngest — he’s entering his second season) and all have settled into their roles. If there are any injuries, especially along the interior, it might be a different story. But for now, just over a week into camp, the rest of the line has started to come together nicely.
The Patriots could continue to try and add to their depth along the interior by bringing in more free agents — Ghiaciuc was one of three offensive linemen who worked out for the Patriots earlier this week, a group that included guard Darnell Stapleton. With no practices scheduled between now and Monday, it wouldn’t be a surprise if New England decided to work out a few linemen over the next couple of days.
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