|What does the return of Logan Mankins mean for the Patriots?||11.02.10 at 12:47 am ET|
With the news that Logan Mankins will reportedly return to the Patriots this week — two weeks earlier than the Nov. 16 deadline for him to gain the full year accrued toward free agency — here are five quick thoughts on what it all means:
1. How much can he contribute for the rest of the 2010 season? Mankins has missed all of the spring practices, organized team activities, minicamps, training camp, the preseason and the first seven games of the regular season. While initial reports indicated he could technically play as early as next week against the Steelers, any expectations should be minimal for at least the next couple of weeks because of the amount of time he has missed.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has said on several occasions that you cannot get into football shape by running around a track — there is no substitute for being on the field and getting reps in practices and games. As a result, don’t expect to see Mankins on the field until the end of the month (Thanksgiving against Detroit?) at the absolute earliest as the Patriots try and get him as many reps as possible.
2. Even with his lengthy absence, Mankins remains a popular figure in the New England locker room. When he strolls back into Gillette Stadium this week, it shouldn’t be an awkward situation as has been the case with many other holdout situations. But once he gets up to speed, how soon does he get on the field?
Mankins, a two-time Pro Bowler, certainly faces an uphill challenge to try and unseat the man who replaced him in Dan Connolly. Connolly has done a more than adequate job stepping into the starting spot at left guard, considering he was the Patriots third choice at the position, behind Mankins and Nick Kaczur, the latter of whom struggled with a back injury and was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the season. In addition to his work on the offensive line, Connolly has also drawn raves from Belichick for his play on special teams as well as his work at fullback.
“We have asked Dan to do a lot,” Belichick said Monday when he was asked about Connolly’s progress. “He has played left guard obviously, but has also played fullback in our short-yardage and goal-line packages. [He’s a] smart guy. [He’s a] good technique player. He has really improved a lot over the time he has been here. He has gotten a lot of playing time this year and has continued to improve. So he is doing a solid job.”
3. How does this alter the Patriots philosophy of continuity and consistency along the offensive line? As stated, Connolly has done a very good job through seven games, and is part of an offensive line that has had six very good games and one not-so-good outing — it yielded four sacks against San Diego, with the left side of the line showing some uncharacteristic leakage at inopportune moments. As a group, they have allowed only 12 sacks through seven games, tied for seventh-best in the league. With the same five players (left tackle Matt Light, Connolly at left guard, center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer) taking almost 100 percent of the snaps as a unit this year, that level of familiarity that’s been built up over the course of the 2010 season is clearly a strength for the current group.
“They’ve pretty much been together through the whole year and through training camp. It is a good hardworking group,” Belichick said. “They are out there; they’re tough. They have been on the field a lot; they’ve taken a lot of snaps in practice and a lot of snaps in the games. They try to do what we ask them to do. They are a hardworking group, and like I said, they are out there doing what you want them to do: trying. So I totally respect that. It is not always perfect, but they do a pretty solid job.”
4. The return of Mankins means one offensive lineman will probably get the gate, with the likely suspects being second-year center/guard Rich Ohrnberger and veteran backup Quinn Ojinnaka. Both have shown some versatility in limited action, but they are also are at the back end of the depth chart and as a result, are the first two candidates to be released to make room for Mankins on the active roster.
5. While he’s now back in the fold, Mankins’ future with the Patriots remains uncertain. According to reports, he has not signed a long-term deal — he’s only planning on inking the roughly $1.54 million tender that will last through the remainder of the 2010 season. In many ways, his future is tied to what happens with the next CBA: He could eventually sign a new deal — he was reportedly in the market for something approximating the contract that Jahri Evans signed with the Saints, a seven-year, $56.7 million deal that was agreed on this past spring. If the current rules are extended into the next CBA, there’s also the possibility he could be franchised by the Patriots, or he could end up walking at the end of the season.
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