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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line

02.03.14 at 1:46 pm ET
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With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks. Now, it’s the offensive line.

Depth chart: T Nate Solder, G/C Dan Connolly, G/T Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, T/G Marcus Cannon, T Sebastian Vollmer, G Josh Kline, G/T Will Svitek, G Chris Barker, OT Markus Zusevics. (C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey and OL R.J. Mattes are all practice squadders.)

Overview: It was an up-and-down season for the New England offensive line. On many occasions, the group was able to do an excellent job buying time for quarterback Tom Brady to deliver the ball, as well as create sizable holes for backs like LeGarrette Blount to run through over the course of the season. However, there were times — and part of this was due in part to breakdowns in other areas, as well as injury — that the line struggled to hold up. Over the course of the season, the Patriots faced some of the best defensive front sevens in the league, and while they were frequently up to the challenge, there were times where they had issues, particularly in pass protection. Some of that can be blamed on the fact that, as a group, the offense was still searching for an identity and struggling with the acclimation of so many new faces. But don’t tell that to the offensive line, a group that continued to hold itself to an almost impossibly high standard regardless of the opponent and situation.

As a group, it was clear that health was an occasional issue. Vollmer had a leg injury that limited him to eight games, while Solder missed a game because of a head injury. As a result, the Patriots had to rely on versatility and depth to get them through some of the toughest points of the season. After Solder went down late in the loss to the Dolphins in Miami, Kline stepped in at left guard and Mankins played left tackle. The same combo faced the Ravens the following week, and held up impressively in the face of the stern Baltimore pass rush.

In the end, much of the mental toughness that eventually became the calling card of the 2013 Patriots came from the offensive line, and, by extension, Mankins. Now the second most senior member of the roster in terms of time in a New England uniform (he was drafted in 2005, and while there have been guys who have been in the league longer — Andre Carter, Isaac Sopoaga — only Brady has been with the Patriots longer than Mankins), he’s the leader of the line, and one of the premier leaders in the locker room. After nine years in the league, Mankins — who was named a second-team All-Pro for the fifth time in his career in 2013 — continues to set the standard.

Going forward, this group will be interesting to watch. The Patriots have a decision to make on pending free agents Wendell and Svitek, and Vollmer faces a return from a leg injury that prematurely ended his 2013 season. And then, there’s the question of how the group will react to the retirement of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who leaves the franchise after 30-plus seasons. Stability, consistency and continuity have always been the watchwords of the New England offensive line, and as it enters a new era without Scarnecchia, the transition to new coach Dave DeGuglielmo will be something to watch in 2014.

Best moment: It’s shortsighted to measure an offensive line purely on sacks alone, but their work against the Falcons was pretty impressive — Brady wasn’t sacked in a September win in Atlanta. (The only game all season he wasn’t sacked.) The stretch drive the group was able to put together over the final three regular season games and the first playoff game, clearing the way for Blount to carry the offense on his back, particularly against the Bills, Ravens and Colts.

Worst moment: Probably the singular worst series for the New England offensive line was coming out of the half for the start of the third quarter against the Jets on Oct. 20: the first six offensive plays for the Patriots went as follows: sack/interception/four-gain gain/five-yard gain/no gain/sack. It’s tough to lay all that at the feet of the New England offensive line, but by Mankins’ own admission, it starts up front, and the line wasn’t able to get the job done. By the end of the quarter, a 21-10 lead turned into a 27-21 deficit, and ended up in an overtime loss. For more from Mankins on that breakdown, click here.

By the numbers: 1,218. The number of snaps played by Wendell this season, tied with Brady for most on the team.

Money quote: “I’ve coached a lot of tough guys. I don’€™t think there’€™s any that I would put ahead of him. Maybe some on that level, but none ahead. Anytime Logan needs help getting off the field, you feel like it’€™s something serious. Usually he ends up just staying out there, but for him to need assistance getting off the field was definitely a concerning moment. Then when [head athletic trainer] Jim Whelan came back and told me, as you mentioned, after the next series that Logan was back, I was a little bit surprised to hear that. He’€™s a tough individual, tough-minded, physically and mentally tough.”€ — Bill Belichick on Logan Mankins

Read More: Dan Connolly, Dante Scarnecchia, Dave DeGuglielmo, Josh Kline
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