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Greg Cosell: Ben Jones could be the answer for the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line

02.27.12 at 12:19 pm ET
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Is Ben Jones a future Patriot? (AP)

With Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly apparently poised to enter free agency and Brian Waters still reportedly contemplating retirement, it should come as no surprise if the Patriots try and shore up the interior of their offensive line. Greg Cosell, a senior producer for NFL Films for the last 33 years, watches more game film than just about anyone, and believes that the interior of the Patriots’ offensive line could be in a state of flux.

“I think they feel that they’re set at tackle, and they are,” said Cosell, who also serves as the producer of ESPN’s NFL Matchup. “Because I think Nate Solder was drafted to play left tackle because of his athleticism. And obviously, with a year under his belt where he played both left and right, and was used in a variety of ways as well, as a sixth offensive lineman in tight end-type of situations — they’ll expect him to play left tackle next year. [Sebastian] Vollmer, when healthy, is a very solid right tackle. So you can argue that they are set at the tackle positions.

Logan Mankins isn’t going anywhere. Now … I think Mankins hasn’t been as consistent a player. He wasn’t as consistent at times this year as he has been in the past. He’s not done. He’s not a stiff. You don’t need to replace him. But I don’t think he was quite the same player.”

Cosell buys into the theory that the slippage in Mankins’ play last season was due in part to having had to work with four different centers over the course of the season. Koppen and Connolly were injured for some or part of the year, causing the Patriots to rotate Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald at times through the 2011 season.

“I talked to someone well connected in the league who said that the Patriots o-line is the most cohesive and best-coached unit in the NFL. And now that you just said that, it would make perfect sense, in that Mankins is playing with a different guy on his right throughout the season, that will have a meaningful impact on both his play and the lines play.

“I don’t think Mankins makes a lot of mental mistakes. But if you pair him with a center, and there’s no unit on the field that has to work together more than the o-line, and particularly when a quarterback sets the protection and there’s 15 seconds left on the play clock … I think that’s a very fair statement.”

As for the other guard spot, Cosell said that Brian Waters had a great season, but it might be too much to expect another similar season from the veteran.

“He had a really good year,” Cosell said. “But I think you have to look … I’m not saying he’s not coming to camp and starts as the starter and all that, but at some point, there will be a dropoff. It’s natural. It’s not a knock on Brian Waters. Its just age.”

As for the man in the middle, Cosell loves what Koppen brings to the field, but refuses to make any predictions about his future because of Bill Belichick’s track record.

“I don’t think they’re going to give him a big, big contract,” Cosell said of Koppen, who has been New England’s regular center since his 2003. “I don’t know … Bill’s the toughest guy in the league for me to figure out. Because it just seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to what he does. Bill’s the kind of guy, he could put you at safety next year if he thought it would work. That’s just the way he is.

“He could think, ‘You know what? I could draft this center out of Georgia named Ben Jones.’ I’ve ended up watching three Georgia games because of the teams they’ve played, and Georgia is the team I’ve watched the most on tape leading up to this. I love that kid. I think Belichick would love him. I think Dante Scarnecchia would love the kid. Maybe he thinks, ‘We could draft that kid and he’ll play center.’ I don’t know how Bill thinks.

“But my point is that the position is important the way they play because a lot of stuff is done at the line of scrimmage. So it’s not just taking a good athlete and putting him in. It’s an important position mentally.”

Read More: Ben Jones, Bill Belichick, Brian Waters, Dan Connolly
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