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NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger: Logan Mankins still one of best guards in NFL

01.15.14 at 10:01 pm ET
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Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game on Sunday. (AP)

Logan Mankins will be playing in his third AFC Championship Game on Sunday. (AP)

FOXBORO — Nothing gets a retired offensive lineman more cranked up than talking about a throwback like Patriots left guard Logan Mankins.

Brian Baldinger, who spent 13 seasons in the league as an offensive lineman and is now working as an analyst for NFL Network, said Wednesday that Mankins is one of the top 5 guards in the league, and added that even after nine years in the NFL, there are few linemen who are able to get a good, consistent push like the Fresno State product.

“€œI think he’€™s a very good technician, which starts with his footwork,”€ Baldinger said of Mankins. “He never seems to be out of position — in pass between pass protection, he always seems to be between his man and Tom. He doesn’€™t seem to get turned real quickly or get beat quickly. He went out to offensive tackle this year — not many guards can go out there and protect the blind side of Tom the way he did for as well as he did. Technique is what travels.

“œHe’€™s a very good puller, so that means A) you have to get out of your stance, and be athletic. And B), you have to be able to get around and through a lot of traffic. Which isn’€™t easy to do. That speaks to footwork and athletic ability. And then, sometimes, there’€™s just nothing there. You have to know when nothing is there and you have to clean it out and recognize when, on the run, when there’€™s nothing there. Or, it’€™s ‘€˜Do I try to make something?’€™ or ‘€˜Do I bulldoze my way?’€™ or ‘€˜Is my guy somewhere in there?’€™ Some guys can’€™t see that. He seems to be able to see all of that.”

The 31-year-old Mankins, in his ninth year in the league, has played both left guard and left tackle this season with the Patriots, and was honored for his work with a second All-Pro nod, as well as his sixth Pro Bowl berth. He’€™s the senior member of New England’€™s offensive line — since entering the starting lineup in 2005, Mankins has helped New England finish in the top 10 on offense eight times, including a seventh-ranked offense in 2013. That includes a suddenly resurgent running game that has allowed the Patriots to head into Sunday’€™s AFC title game with a dangerous running attack.

Over the years, Mankins has made no secret of his love of run blocking. Baldinger noted that with more and more pro-style passing offenses at the college level, it’€™s hard to find younger offensive linemen who know proper run-blocking technique — but that was never a problem with Mankins.

“There’€™s not many guys who are great run blockers in this league anymore because they don’€™t run block in college,”€ Baldinger said. “I know Logan did at Fresno, but he had a good head coach at Fresno. I just think he’€™s still a good run blocker. He still takes guys off the ball.

“He’€™s still really good in space. When they run a pull to the left, out in space to the weak side — a toss crack or whatever because — he’€™s really good out in space. They pull and run really, really well. He still does that well.”

Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder are two of the biggest reasons Baldinger calls the Patriots a ‘€œleft-handed’€ team at this point in the postseason.

“œI don’€™t see any slowdown in his game to say, ‘€˜OK, who is better than him right now.’€™ I think it’€™s very difficult to say that,’€ he said of Mankins. ‘€œI think there are some tackles who are clear cut, because tackles do more than guards. I think that him and [right guard] Dan Connolly, it’€™s a good setup, because I think your guard makes your tackle better and your center better because they work so well together, between him and Dan. They’€™ve had a lot of changes in that line to, on the right side at tackle. I just think that the fact that he lines up and plays every snap, kicks out and plays tackle when they need to in a pinch with no loss of technique, that’€™s impressive.

“When [quarterback] Tom [Brady] drives the ball, when he has to make a ‘€˜stick’€™ throw, whether its a seam route to Julian [Edelman] against Cleveland in the final minute and he has to drive that ball, you have to be able to step into that throw to do it and you need a clean pocket up front to do it,’€ Baldinger added. ‘€œYou have to set short. A lot of guys give up ground and still stay between their man and the quarterback. They don’€™t do that here. They set short up front so that Tom can step up into that throw, and that’€™s really important to them and what they do offensively.”

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