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Countdown to camp: Offensive line 07.23.15 at 11:12 am ET
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As a rookie, Bryan Stork became an absolutely vital part of New England's offensive line. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As a rookie, Bryan Stork became an absolutely vital part of New England’s offensive line. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends. Now, it’s the offensive line.

Depth chart: David Andrews (rookie), Tre Jackson (rookie), Chris Barker, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Caylin Hauptmann, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason (rookie), Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Jordan Devey, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. While there are other players with more experience in the system, the new leader of the line is Bryan Stork. The FSU product, who remains the spiritual descendent of Logan Mankins (right down to the occasionally questionable facial hair, the nasty attitude and preternatural skill set), stepped into the center spot last year as a rookie and immediately stabilized the line. There were some durability issues as the season went on (he missed the AFC title game with a knee injury, and he was actually listed as questionable in the days leading up to the Super Bowl), but he was far and away the pick for New England’s Rookie of the Year in 2014. As long as he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think that Stork won’t be the Patriots’ franchise center for the next decade.

2. Nate Solder probably deserves a pass for any issues he may have had last season. The left tackle out of Colorado appeared to struggle at times over the course of 2014, but still managed to hold up well while protecting Tom Brady‘s blind side over the course of the season, and earned his first Super Bowl ring along the way. But in hindsight, the news that he had been treated for testicular cancer last spring means he fundamentally gets a mulligan for what happened in 2014. Bottom line? Solder isn’t the sort to make excuses, but we’ll give him an out here. Given a clean bill of health, we fully expect Solder to return to the same high-level status he enjoyed over the course of his first three seasons in the NFL.

3. While there are some questions about how he reacts under pressure, Tom Brady still remains really good at gauging the state of the New England offensive line. We’ve hit on this many times over the last few years, but it’s tough trying to quantify good offensive line play — in many cases, you don’€™t necessarily need the five best pure linemen. Instead, it’€™s the five who work the best as a unit, so it takes time to find the best combinations. While the Patriots were going through those issues at the start of the 2014 season, one of the things that appeared to help turn things around (in addition to the evolution of Stork) was a concerted effort from Brady to speed up his release times. It’s important to remember that things vary from week-to-week depending on opponent, scheme and personnel, but looking at Brady’s release times over the course of the 2014 season, it was clear that getting the ball out fast in the passing game was a real point of emphasis for the New England offense. (For a deeper dive into those numbers from last season, check out Ryan Hannable’s excellent story here.)

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Read More: Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Countdown to Camp, Dan Connolly
5 looming positional battles for Patriots 06.08.15 at 9:59 pm ET
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New Patriot Travaris Cadet could have the inside track for the job of third-down back. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

New Patriot Travaris Cadet could have the inside track for the job of third-down back. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The 2015 Patriots roster is starting to come into sharper focus, and as a result, there are some positional battles starting to take shape. With the understanding that there’s a lot of football left before the start of training camp at the end of July, here are four positions that bear watching as New England’s mandatory minicamp approaches later this month and camp begins in July.

Backup outside linebacker/defensive end: This spot demands some versatility in that defenders have to show an ability to not just get after the quarterback and set the edge, but also play over a tight end and drop into coverage from time to time. There are a bunch of different possibilities when it comes to working behind the likes of expected starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones that one of the candidates — Jake Bequette — has apparently spent some of the spring working at tight end in an attempt to get on the field. Opponent, situation and scheme will all play a sizable role as to who is on the field, and while free-agent pickup Jabaal Sheard probably shouldn’t necessarily be labeled as a backup, he will augment the work of Jones and Ninkovich. Sheard will lead a group that includes returnee Zach Moore (more of a defensive end/pass rush type than an outside linebacker, as well as rookies Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Xzavier Dickson.

Backup inside/middle linebacker: The release of Brandon Spikes on Monday creates a void at the linebacker spot for New England. While Spikes wasn’t going to unseat any of the three long-term starters (Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower) for work as a three-down linebacker, his run-stuffing ability made him a good situational option on first and second downs. With Hightower’s offseason shoulder surgery leaving him a question mark when it comes to participating over the summer, the Patriots could still try and add someone at the spot. If not, the return of Dane Fletcher creates some depth at the position, and is likely the favorite to see the bulk of the playing time, at least at this point. In addition, James Morris (who was on the shelf all last season with a leg injury) will compete for reps alongside youngster Chris White and rookie Matt Wells.

Third-down back: The Patriots lost one of their most impressive offensive options to free agency this offseason, as Shane Vereen signed with the Giants. However, New England hasn’t been shy about turnover at this spot the last few years, as Kevin Faulk have way to Danny Woodhead, who yielded to Vereen. Now, it’ll be next man up here, and there are plenty of possibilities. The Patriots acquired Travaris Cadet in free agency — the 26-year-old had 38 catches last season out of the backfield with the Saints, and could be the early favorite to win the gig. Cadet will have his challengers, however, with one of them likely being second-year pro James White. White, who fundamentally took a redshirt year last season while sitting behind Vereen and the rest of the backs, has an impressive college resume at Wisconsin (he had 39 catches as a senior, and 73 total as a collegian), and certainly possesses the same sort of size and shiftiness as Vereen. While Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount have shown a willingness to catch passes out of the backfield, the wild card here is likely Tyler Gaffney, a 6-foot-1, 221-pounder who was swiped from the Panthers off waivers and spent the whole season on IR because of a knee issue. The Stanford product caught 27 passes his last two seasons at Stanford, and could be part of the conversation as the summer continues.

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Read More: Cameron Fleming, chandler jones, Dan Connolly, Dane Fletcher
Stanford teammate Cameron Fleming: Richard Sherman is a ‘very entertaining person’ 01.28.15 at 2:42 pm ET
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Richard Sherman is ready to take on Tom Brady again in the Super Bowl. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Richard Sherman was teammates with Cameron Fleming at Stanford for one season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

CHANDLER, Ariz. — Aside from Brandon Browner and Alan Branch, who played with Richard Sherman in Seattle, no one on the Patriots knows the Seattle cornerback better than rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming.

Fleming red-shirted the year Sherman was still at Stanford so he spent a year around the team before Sherman was drafted by the Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft.

“I guess he was always like he is now,” said Fleming. “He’s a very entertaining person, I guess. Very confident.”

Sherman earned his undergraduate degree in communications at Stanford and returned for another season to get his Masters. The cornerback actually started at Stanford as a wide receiver before switching to the other side of the ball for his final two seasons.

His most memorable moment may have come after last year’s NFC championship game when he went off during an interview with Erin Andrews on the FOX broadcast. Fleming said that wasn’t a surprise to see.

“No, I mean he’s definitely a passionate player and when you catch someone right after the game in the heat of the moment things like that are going to coming out,” Fleming said. “I can’t say I am surprised.”

Even though Fleming is an offensive lineman, he can appreciate how good of a player Sherman is.

“From all reports he’s a very, very good corner,” said Fleming. “One of the best in the league obviously. He’s an All-Pro, Pro Bowler for a couple of years now. He’s definitely doing well.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Cameron Fleming, Richard Sherman, Super Bowl XLIX
Chandler Jones (hip), Cameron Fleming (ankle) ruled out for Sunday vs. Lions 11.21.14 at 5:26 pm ET
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Cameron Fleming

Cameron Fleming

FOXBORO — Chandler Jones will miss his fourth straight game with a hip injury while Cameron Fleming’s ankle injury suffered Sunday night against the Colts will keep him out of this weekend’s game against the Lions.

The two players were the only ones ruled out Friday after being two of the four players who missed practice. The team worked out in the cold for a second straight day in preparation for the game at Gillette Stadium. Also missing Friday was Dominique Easley. He missed practice for a second straight game with a knee issue but is officially questionable for Sunday.

Jonas Gray appeared on the report but only because he missed practice after showing up late at Gillette Stadium on Friday morning. He was sent home but was expected to return later in the day to apologize for oversleeping.

Fleming is also listed with a finger issue. But the finger, which is said to be still an issue, is likely not what’s keeping him from playing Sunday. Fleming was spotted with a big walking boot on his foot as he made his way through the locker room on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Jones hasn’t practiced since suffering the hip injury in Week 7. Both Fleming and Jones missed the entire week.

For the Lions, defensive lineman Nick Fairley once again did not practice and was ruled out with a knee injury. Offensive lineman Nick Warford was also officially ruled out, also suffering from a knee injury. Reggie Bush (ankle) is officially questionable after being limited all week in practice.

Here is Friday’s complete Patriots practice report:

Did not practice

OL Cameron Fleming (finger/ankle) OUT
DE Chandler Jones (hip) OUT
DL Dominique Easley (knee) QUESTIONABLE
RB Jonas Gray (not injury related)

Limited participation

OL Marcus Cannon (hip) QUESTIONABLE
S Nate Ebner (finger) QUESTIONABLE
WR Julian Edelman (thigh) PROBABLE

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle) PROBABLE

Read More: Cameron Fleming, chandler jones, Jonas Gray,
Dominique Easley (knee) misses Patriots practice 11.20.14 at 4:42 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

The Patriots practiced outside in the cold on the grass fields behind Gillette Stadium on Thursday in advance of Sunday’s game with the Lions. Chandler Jones (hip), Dominique Easley (knee) and Cameron Fleming (finger/ankle) all missed the session.

Jones hasn’t practiced since suffering the hip injury in Week 7, while Fleming didn’t practice Wednesday after leaving late in last Sunday’s game against the Colts with an ankle injury. It was Fleming’s first action since suffering a finger injury Week 4 against Kansas City, which he is still said to be dealing with. Easley missed the practice after being limited on Wednesday. It is worth noting that Wednesday’s practice was a walkthrough and Thursday’s was held in full pads.

Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (knee) was removed from the injury report.

On a side note, Sealver Siliga was spotted at Wednesday’s walkthrough, but his 21-day window of coming off short-term injured reserve has not started yet.

For the Lions, running back Joique Bell was limited in practice after not practicing at all on Wednesday. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson and defensive lineman Nick Fairley once again did not practice.

Here is the complete Patriots practice report:

Did not practice

DL Dominique Easley (knee)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger/ankle)
DE Chandler Jones (hip)

Limited participation

OL Marcus Cannon (hip)
S Nate Ebner (finger)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle)

Read More: Cameron Fleming, chandler jones, Dominique Easley, Julian Edelman
Sealver Siliga, Cameron Fleming missing at start of Patriots practice; LeGarrette Blount present at 12:05 pm ET
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According to multiple reports, Sealver Siliga, Dominique Easley, Cameron Fleming and Chandler Jones were absent at the start of Patriots practice Thursday afternoon. Newly signed running back LeGarrette Blount was present and wore No. 60 (very-much temporary).

Easley (knee), Fleming (finger/ankle) and Jones (hip) all did not practice on Wednesday, while Siliga was spotted at Wednesday’s practice, he in fact has not been taken off of the short-term designated for return list, so his 21-day clock has not yet been started.

The Patriots are getting ready for Sunday’s matchup against the Lions Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Cameron Fleming, LeGarrette Blount, Sealver Siliga,
Cameron Fleming (ankle/finger) misses Patriots practice, Julian Edelman (thigh) limited 11.19.14 at 4:47 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Some new injuries have appeared on the injury report for the Patriots in advance of Sunday’s meeting with the Lions at Gillette Stadium. This comes following Wednesday’s practice, which was held indoors inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse and was a walkthrough.

Julian Edelman (thigh) popped up on the injury report for the first time this season, and was limited in the practice. Edelman landed awkwardly on his side during the first quarter of last Sunday’s game, and has taken a beating all season long, so it really seemed like a matter of time before his name appeared. The injury did not seem to phase Edelman as he missed just a few plays.

Offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger/ankle) missed the practice in its entirety. Fleming injured his ankle late in Sunday’s game and did not return, while he suffered the finger injury Week 4 in Kansas City — the injury has been on the injury report since that game. Last Sunday was Fleming’s first action since Week 4.

Finally, offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (hip) was limited. It was the first time he’s appeared on the injury report this season. Cannon saw limited action Sunday as a substitute offensive lineman.

Chandler Jones (hip) once again did not practice and Matthew Slater (shoulder) was removed from the injury report. Defensive lineman Sealver Siliga returned to practice for the first time since being placed on injured reserve designated for return after injuring his foot in Week 3. The Patriots have 21 days to decide whether or not to add him to the active roster or shut him down.

For the Lions, wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle), defensive lineman Nick Fairley (knee) and running back Joique Bell (ankle) did not practice.

Here is the full Patriots practice report:

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Read More: Cameron Fleming, chandler jones, Julian Edelman, Marcus Cannon
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