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Ryan Wendell misses Dan Connolly but knows Patriots OL will step up 08.26.15 at 2:26 pm ET
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Ryan Wendell will miss teammate Dan Connolly on the Patriots offensive line. (Mike Petraglia/

Ryan Wendell will miss teammate Dan Connolly on the Patriots offensive line. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell returned to the practice field for the first time on Tuesday after spending the entire summer on PUP recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

Upon his return to the offensive huddle, he wasn’t seeing a familiar face, as long-time teammate Dan Connolly announced his retirement this offseason.

“I think Dan — I can’t say enough good things about Dan so whatever you guys want to write about Dan Connolly you can,” Wendell said. “He’s an awesome guy, an awesome teammate. One of my best friends and it was an honor and a privilege for me to play behind him, next to him, anywhere around him for the past seven years. I wish we could have played together for longer, but he’s got time with his family now and he’s enjoying that.

“He’s having a great time. He’s still plugged in. He still knows what’s going on every day. He’s watching all the games and he’s going to be our biggest fan this year.”

For obvious reasons Wendell would have liked to have Connolly back for another season, but he’s seen over the years the Patriots can adapt and make the adjustments, as well as have new players step in.

“We want the best players we can get every year and Dan is a great player,” Wendell said. “I would love to have him out here, but this is the NFL, pro football — guys come and go all the time. We’ve lost guys in the past and we’ve made adjustments, guys have stepped up and I don’t have any doubts guys on our team now will do well going forward.”

While Wendell didn’t step foot on the field since winning the Super Bowl, he’s entering his seventh season, so he knows what he needs to do to make sure he’s ready for the season-opener Sept. 10. While he wasn’t on the field, the Fresno State product was still putting his work in.

“I think you can’t spend time worrying about things you can’t control,” Wendell said. “The only thing I can control is doing the work I have each day — believe me, I’ve had plenty of work to do each day and each day I am trying to do the best I can.”

As for any hint as to whether or not he will play in Friday’s third preseason game in Carolina against the Panthers?

“You’ll have to talk to Bill,” Wendell joked. “I don’t put the players in.”

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Read More: 2015 Patriots Training Camp, Dan Connolly, ryan wendell,
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.


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
Bill Belichick: ‘Dan Connolly was a player I was proud to coach’ 07.17.15 at 12:53 pm ET
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Longtime Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly announced his retirement on Thursday, via ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

On Friday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick released a statement, saying he was “proud” to coach a player like Connolly.

“Dan Connolly exemplified everything our program requires of players,” Belichick said. “He was tough and dependable, smart and team-oriented, and his work ethic ensured he improved on an annual basis to reach his potential. From where his career began as a developmental player to where it finished as a team leader and champion, Dan Connolly was a player I was proud to coach.”

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Veteran OL Dan Connolly says he will retire 07.16.15 at 9:03 am ET
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Veteran offensive lineman Dan Connolly said he will retire in an interview with ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

The 32-year-old played eight seasons in the league, the last seven with the Patriots after being an undrafted free agent. Connolly was a captain on the Super Bowl winning team this past season. He was a free agent and there was some thought he could return to the team, but Connolly wanted to leave the game healthy.

“It’s important to me to leave the game healthy,” Connolly said to Reiss. “I’m able to be here for my kids and walk away on my own terms. I feel like I got everything I could out of football in playing 10 years, winning a Super Bowl, and playing alongside some truly great players.”

Connolly won his first Super Bowl this past season and said that was a factor in retiring.

“It definitely played a part in it; helped me sleep better. I’m more at ease with the decision,” Connolly said.

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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
Report: Dan Connolly will visit with Tampa Bay 03.30.15 at 11:58 pm ET
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Offensive lineman Dan Connolly is scheduled for a visit with the Bucs later this week, according to a report from ESPN. The 32-year-old free agent is one of the longest-tenured member of the New England roster, having been with the Patriots since 2007. The 6-foot-4, 311-pounder has played all three interior positions along the offensive line, and has started 43 regular-season games the last three seasons for New England.

There are plenty of Patriots’ ties in Tampa for Connolly to consider — fellow offensive lineman Logan Mankins was dealt to the Bucs late last August. In addition, the Tampa Bay front office features GM Jason Licht and assistant GM Jon Robinson, both of who made their bones in the New England system.

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Read More: 2015 NFL free agency, Dan Connolly,
Free-agent reset: Rundown of Patriots players set to hit market 03.07.15 at 9:06 am ET
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It will be interesting to see what the market will be for Shane Vereen this offseason. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It will be interesting to see what the market will be for Shane Vereen this offseason. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

With free agency set to kick off, here’s a reminder of which one of the Patriots are set to hit the market:

(One quick note: For the record, cornerback Darrelle Revis is technically not a free agent. While his massive cap number means his contract will likely be addressed in some form or fashion this offseason, his current deal runs through the 2015 season. As a result, he won’t be included on this list.)

Safety Devin McCourty: Other than Revis, likely the Patriots No. 1 priority this offseason. The defensive back is likely to draw interest from several teams during this weekend’s legal tampering period, as the safety market is expected to be weaker than usual in free agency and the draft.

Offensive lineman Dan Connolly: The veteran, who can play both guard and center, will be 33 years old before the start of the 2015 season, but has held up well in the past.

Running back Shane Vereen: A bit of a wild card at this point. Vereen is coming off the finest season of his young career, as he was only one of five backs in the league to finish with at least 50 catches and 50 carries. But with teams paying less and less for backs than ever these days — even multidimensional types like Vereen — what will the market bear for the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder?

Running back Stevan Ridley: Like Vereen, trying to discern the 26-year-old Ridley’s worth on the open market will be a challenge. He rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012, but a season-ending knee injury last October put his future earnings in doubt as a free agent.

Linebacker Chris White: A nice special teamer who added depth at linebacker, his background in the system could certainly help his cause when it comes to him re-upping with New England.

Long snapper Danny Aiken: The decision to sign long snapper Tyler Ott this week is either a message to Aiken that he shouldn’t get too comfortable in his gig or the beginning of the end for the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder, who has been with the Patriots since 2011.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again — Ayers appears to be on a similar career path to Mark Anderson, who spent the one season with the Patriots and had a very good year, helping New England get to the Super Bowl before departing as a free agent. Ayers has done a nice job within the New England system, working to rehab what was a slightly damaged reputation. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pop up at another address.

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas: The midseason pickup did very well as a depth addition and special teams standout. The Patriots would certainly love to have him back in the same role in 2015.

Defensive end Alan Branch: Another mid-year pickup, if the price is right, the Patriots might be more inclined now to bring the 30-year-old back for 2015 in the wake of their apparent decision to move on from Vince Wilfork. If he wants to continue to be a part of the Patriots rotation upfront and the money is commensurate with that of a situational player, then expect the relationship to continue.

Wide receiver Brian Tyms, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, fullback James Develin, wide receiver Greg Orton and linebacker James Morris: We’re grouping all five of these guys together because they’re all exclusive rights free agents. By definition, an ERFA is a player who isn’t under contract but has two or less years of NFL experience. As a result, his team essentially holds the hammer over their careers — they cannot sign with anyone else, and if they do not sign the contract offered to them by the team, the player has to quit. Look for Patriots to bring back all of them.

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, Chris White, Dan Connolly



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