|Centers of attention: Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork all in spotlight||08.04.14 at 7:00 am ET|
One of the more interesting positions over the first week-plus of Patriots training camp has been center, where Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Bryan Stork have all gotten plenty of work.
Wendell enters the 2014 season as the incumbent, having served as the No. 1 center for the better part of the last two years. A favorite of both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, he’s played almost more snaps than anyone else in the league since the start of the 2012 season.
It’s been a long journey for the 28-year-old Wendell, who signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, got his first series of starts along the interior in 2010 and moved into the starting center position in 2012.
“When Ryan first got here, he couldn’t even make our practice squad,” Belichick recalled earlier this summer when asked about the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Wendell. “He was a camp player [and] wasn’t on our practice squad at the beginning of the season. We brought him back to the practice squad during his first year.
“I’d say it’s been about as big of a progression as really any player could have, any player I’ve had or any player could have — maybe Steve Neal. But it’s the same kind of thing — guys [who] weren’t even on the practice squad that eventually became starting players in the NFL. That’s a pretty big jump. It took a lot of time, a lot of hard work and he’s certainly done his part and worked hard. He’s a very smart football player, and doesn’t have many missed assignments.”
At the same time, he figured to be pushed by the 23-year-old Stork, a rookie with a peerless college resume — he won the Rimington Award last year as the best center in college football in 2013, and was a captain for the national champions from Florida State.
“Bryan was a pretty durable player,” Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio said of the 6-foot-4, 313-pound Stork, who started 41 games as a collegian with the Seminoles. “He played a lot of football. He played against good people.
“Smart guy, tough, good playing strength, had a good playing style, good demeanor. He did a lot of good things, and there was a lot to like about him.”
However, one player who has really emerged has been the 31-year-old Connolly, a part-time center who has really made his bones the last few years as the starting right guard. When Stork went down with an undisclosed injury — he’s missed three of the eight practices this summer as a result — the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Connolly stepped in as the backup, while Marcus Cannon took many of the reps at right guard. The move appeared to be a chance to take some of the reps from Wendell and give the starter a bit of a rest. But to this point, Connolly has performed well, and has added some more spice to the mix.
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|Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line||02.03.14 at 1:46 pm ET|
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
|Patriots practice Wednesday: Nate Solder, Aaron Dobson absent, Marcus Cannon returns||12.11.13 at 11:11 am ET|
With temperatures below freezing outside, the team worked out in sweats and shells indoors at the Dana Farber Field House to prepare for much warmer conditions Sunday. Sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s are expected for kickoff at Sun Life Stadium.
Solder played all 83 snaps in Sunday’s win over the Browns while Dobson missed his second straight game with a injured left foot, a foot that remained in a walking boot on Sunday as he watched the game from the press box.
Right tackle Marcus Cannon – returned to practice after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.
|Patriots practice Wednesday: Brandon Spikes, Aaron Dobson and Marcus Cannon absent||12.04.13 at 12:04 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Linebacker Brandon Spikes headlined a list of three players not in attendance at Patriots practice on Wednesday as the team began on-field preparations for the Cleveland Browns this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Spikes has been nursing a sore knee for several weeks and has been listed on the team’s injury report.
Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson has a foot injury that forced him to miss Sunday’s game in Houston. Dobson played just 36 of 87 snaps against the Broncos on Nov. 24 before showing up on the injury report last week.
Marcus Cannon injured his ankle against the Broncos in the first half against the Broncos and was replaced by Will Svitek for the remainder of the game. Cannon was not active last Sunday against Houston, marking the first game he has missed this season.
On the bright side, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib were both on hand and participating in practice. Dennard missed practice last Thursday and has missed two of the last three games, including Sunday’s win in Houston.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui returned to practice for the first time since suffering a knee injury against Carolina on Nov. 18. Hoomanawanui has missed the last two games with the knee injury.
The team worked out in sweats and shells on the lower practice fields Wednesday and will practice again on Thursday and Friday.
|Patriots Wednesday injury report: Aaron Dobson misses practice with foot injury||11.27.13 at 4:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ Patriots receiver Aaron Dobson missed Wednesday’s indoors practice with a foot injury. He played just 36 of 90 offensive snaps on Sunday night and was not spotted during media availability on Wednesday.
Also missing Wednesday were Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) and Marcus Cannon (ankle). Hoomanawanui missed last week and the game against the Broncos after injuring his knee against Carolina on Nov. 18 while Cannon injured his ankle last Sunday night in the first half. He was replaced by Will Svitek and did not return.
Seven players were officially listed as limited on Wednesday. The Patriots (8-3) play in Houston on Sunday afternoon.
Here is Wednesday’s complete report:
Did Not Practice
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Marquice Cole (shin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
LB Chris White (back)
|Aaron Dobson, Michael Hoomanawanui and Marcus Cannon missing at start of Patriots practice||at 11:49 am ET|
FOXBORO — Receiver Aaron Dobson, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon were all missing from the start of Patriots practice on Wednesday, which was held inside the practice bubble in sweats and shells because of inclement conditions.
Hoomanawanui is dealing with the effects of a knee injury he suffered in the wake of the loss to the Panthers earlier this month, while Cannon left the game last Sunday against the Broncos with an ankle injury. It’s unclear why Dobson wasn’t present, but it is worth noting that the rookie was limited in action Sunday against Denver — according to Pro Football Focus, he played 37 of a possible 88 offensive snaps, one of his lowest totals of the season.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|NFL fines Marcus Cannon $15,750 for leg whip of Charles Johnson||11.22.13 at 4:51 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The leg-whip that injured star defensive end Charles Johnson has – as expected – hit Marcus Cannon in the wallet.
The NFL announced Friday they have hit the Patriots starting right tackle with a fine of $15,750 for his play on Johnson in the second half of Monday’s game against Carolina.
The Cannon move came on the second snap of the third quarter as he was trying to compensate for getting beat by Johnson on a running play. The play, shown repeatedly on ESPN during the game, resulted in Johnson being carted off the field, only to return later in the second half. Johnson suffered a sprained MCL in the knee and will miss this weekend’s game against the Dolphins.
Cannon apologized to Johnson in person after the game.
Tom Brady, who dropped an F-bomb tirade on referee Clete Blakeman that was picked up by ESPN microphones, was not fined for confronting the official after Blakeman picked up the flag in the end zone which ended the game. Ryan Mallett was also seen confronting Blakeman for his call.
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