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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
Adam Schefter on MFB: Patriots ’rounding into form’ 12.12.14 at 12:42 pm ET
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Adam Schefter

Adam Schefter

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB and talked about the Patriots’ prospects in the AFC as they head into the home stretch of the regular season. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Schefter said it clear the Patriots are “the favorites in the AFC, for whatever’s that worth.”

“I think this team is rounding into form,” Schefter said. “It’s getting better. It’s adding parts like Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas and Alan Branch and LeGarrette Blount — guys that were essentially on the scrap heap that they’re pulling off, utilizing, making them shine in roles they did not have with other teams. it has enabled this team to get better. Chandler Jones come back at some point here, they should obviously benefit tremendously from that. I certainly would not pick them to lose a game from this point on.

“They’ve lost two straight games to the Miami Dolphins. Does anybody think that the Miami Dolphins are going to beat New England for a third straight time in Foxboro on Sunday? I don’t. I don’t. And so if this team just continues to take care of its business and do what it’s been doing, I don’t mean to sound like a coach, but good things will happen.”

Added Schefter: “Good luck to the team that has to come into New England and try win there in January when the winds are whipping and the fans are yelling and temperatures are dipping. That’s going to be a tough assignment to do — not that it can’t be done, because we’ve seen the Baltimore Ravens do it — but it’s going to be a tough assignment for somebody to come in there in January and beat a Patriot team that seems to be improving.”

Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon agreed to a reported two-year, $9 million extension Thursday. This raised some eyebrows because of how it might affect the team’s other linemen.

“It gives New England options,” Schefter said. “You’ve got a situation where Nate Solder‘s deal’s coming up, [Sebastian] Vollmer‘s in a situation. Interestingly enough, Vollmer and Solder have the same agent as Wes Welker and as Shane Vereen. I could be wrong here, but I don’t know if they’ve had any negotiations of any players and any deals since the Wes Welker experience. So these would be the first.

“Now, obviously you’d have to think both sides are going to be smart enough to put previous differences behind them and move forward and do what’s best for both. … But there is a history there. And it will be interesting to see if that history plays into these deals at all and impacts the negotiations on the clients that these two sides have dealt with before.”

Looking at the situation in New York with the Jets, Schefter said he expects owner Woody Johnson to clean house after the season, firing coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik.

“I don’t think that they’re related in any way,” Schefter said. “I don’t think Rex Ryan will be back in New York, I don’t think John Idzik will be back in New York. I think both will be released at the end of the season and I think the Jets will chart a new course and a new direction. That’s the direction it certainly sounds like the franchise is heading. They’ve got to make decisions and make things official, but based on everything I’ve heard, I would be surprised if either guy was back.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots. For more from Schefter, including his thoughts on Rob Gronkowski‘s kitten photos, Johnny Manziel and the Ray Rice situation, listen to the interview at the MFB audio on demand page.

Read More: adam schefter, John Idzik, Marcus Cannon, Rex Ryan
Bill Belichick on Marcus Cannon: ‘It’s always good to have him on the field’ at 11:00 am ET
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Marcus Cannon

Marcus Cannon

FOXBORO — The way Bill Belichick sees it, a two-year, $9 million extension for Marcus Cannon is money well earned. The Patriots coach made that much clear Friday morning, hours after the extension was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Cannon showed his biggest value in 2013 when Sebastian Vollmer went out with a broken leg against the Dolphins in October. He took over at right tackle and helped stabilize the offensive line.

“Last year, he had an opportunity to play a lot,” Belichick said of the 26-year-old offensive lineman out of Texas Christian. “I thought he played well. This year, he gives us a lot of depth at a key position. It’s always good to have him on the field.

“He works hard and is very athletic guy, tough.”

This year has been a bigger challenge for Cannon, who has struggled at times on the left side of the offensive line. He started the first three games at left guard, as the Patriots searched for a replacement for the traded Logan Mankins. But he seemed to find a more comfortable role in the tackle-eligible role when the Patriots went with their jumbo sets.

“Marcus works hard. He’s done a lot of different things for us. He’s improved a lot,” Belichick said.

Belichick would not specifically confirm the new deal for Cannon, focusing instead on the upcoming opponent this weekend at Gillette Stadium.

“I don’t really talk too much about contracts. Just right now worried about Miami,” Belichick said.

Cannon was due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season after signing his four-year, $2.338 million rookie contract with New England in July 2011.

Cannon’s deal gives the Patriots some tackle insurance on the offensive line as Nate Solder is facing an upcoming fifth-year option of $7.43 million. With Cameron Fleming having missed eight of the last nine games with finger and knee injuries, that role has fallen primarily to Cannon.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, New England Patriots
Report: Marcus Cannon receives 2-year, $9 million extension from Patriots 12.11.14 at 8:15 pm ET
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Marcus Cannon

Marcus Cannon

The Patriots didn’t want Marcus Cannon hitting free agency.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the fourth-year lineman out of Texas Christian and the Patriots have come to an agreement on a two-year, $9 million contract extension. He was due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season after signing his four-year, $2.338 million rookie contract with New England in July 2011.

Cannon is being rewarded for his versatility and the depth he provides on the Patriots’ offensive line. But the bigger factor could be the upcoming fifth-year option of $7.43 million potentially due left tackle Nate Solder. Cannon started the first three games of the season at left guard before moving to his current role as third tackle and tackle eligible, a role he shares with Cameron Fleming. With Fleming having missed eight of the last nine games with finger and knee injuries, that role has fallen primarily to Cannon.

The Patriots drafted Cannon in the fifth round of the ’11 draft, with the 138th pick, acquired in a trade from the Houston Texans. Cannon was diagnosed with a non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the pre-draft process. His value dropped, allowing the Patriots to take a chance on the big lineman. At TCU’s pro day in March 2011, Cannon was measured at 349 pounds. Although he played offensive tackle throughout his TCU career, the Patriots listed Cannon as an offensive guard when announcing the pick.

Weighing in at 358 pounds at the NFL Combine, Cannon was the heaviest player ever drafted by the Patriots, and the second-heaviest player in team history after nose tackle Ted Washington.

Cannon began the 2011 season on the Non-Football Injury list as he recuperated from his chemotherapy treatment, which took place during the NFL lockout.

Cannon was activated to the 53-man roster after the Patriots’ Week 10 game against the New York Jets, and saw his first snaps in the NFL at right tackle on the Patriots’ final drive against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11. Cannon was selected as the Patriots’ recipient for the Ed Block Courage Award.

After Sebastian Vollmer went on injured reserve in late October 2013, Cannon started the rest of the season at right tackle.

This season, Cannon has provided even more depth on the exterior of the line, serving as a tackle eligible when the Patriots got into their “jumbo” sets.

Read More: Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, New England Patriots, non-hodgkin's lymphoma
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
Patriots reportedly set to shake up offensive line 09.29.14 at 2:42 pm ET
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Bryan Stork

Bryan Stork

The Patriots are expected to shake up the offensive line on Monday night, moving rookie Bryan Stork to the role of starting center, while installing another rookie — Cameron Fleming — at right guard and slotting the versatile Dan Connolly at the other guard position.

Meanwhile, Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey, who have seen the bulk of the work at guard for the first three games, will apparently sit, at least for now. In addition, Ryan Wendell will move to a backup role. The moves come in the wake of some struggles up front over the course of the first three games of the season, a stretch where the team has had issues when it comes to pass protection.

Stork, who stepped in at center in the late stages of last week’€™s win over the Raiders, arrives at the NFL level with a peerless resume, having played some guard before moving to the pivot, where he eventually won the Rimington Award last year as college football’€™s best center. A captain and three-year starter at Florida State, he was a part of last season’€™s national championship team.

“€œHe’€™€™s really a football guy; loves football, works really hard at football,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Stork on Saturday. “He wants to be a football player and he’€™€™s dedicated himself to it; all those qualities that you love in any player but especially an offensive linemen. He’€™€™s got strength; he’€™€™s got a good frame for a center. He’€™€™s got good length and height. He played in a good program, he’€™€™s well coached, pretty good fundamental player. I thought he was as good as any center that we saw this year, the last couple years.”

Fleming played right tackle over the course of his career at Stanford — he said he got some work at right guard in college “as a joke” — but took some reps at right guard this week in practice. In his relatively brief NFL career, he has shown himself to be a steady and dependable blocker, mostly working as an extra tight end/tackle eligible in running situations.

As for Wendell, he could be in the mix now to serve as a backup at either guard or center going forward.

“He’€™€™s played both for us,”€ Belichick said of Wendell, who has fundamentally been the starting center in New England since 2012. ‘€œRyan’€™€™s a really smart player. He’€™€™s one of the smartest players that we have, that we’€™€™ve had. He really understands everything that we’€™€™re doing, including all the communication with the quarterback and so forth.”

The news was first reported by Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe.

Read More: Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Dan Connolly, Jordan Devey
Bill Belichick hints at offensive line rotation to fill shoes of Logan Mankins 09.05.14 at 10:49 am ET
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Could Josh Kline be the replacement for the departed Logan Mankins? (Getty Images)

Could Josh Kline be the replacement for the departed Logan Mankins? (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Ever since Logan Mankins was dealt away to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there’s been constant speculation as to who might replace the six-time Pro Bowl starting left guard.

Well, Bill Belichick hinted Friday that it might take more than one person to fill that void.

“We know how we’re going to play the game. Like anything else we do, we always have contingency plans if something happens to somebody. I think we have a lot of good players at that position on the offensive line. We’ll see how we end up playing them but we could end up playing more than five.”

Josh Kline, who started at left guard last Dec. 22 in Baltimore, was given the job in the preseason finale. He was bull-rushed twice against the Giants and allowed a sack. But against the Ravens last December, he kept Tom Brady clean and the Patriots offense rolled to an easy win.

There’s also been speculation that Marcus Cannon, Jordan Devey or even Sebastian Vollmer could get looks along the interior line at some point. The projected starters along the line right now figure to be Nate Solder at left tackle, Ryan Wendell at center, Dan Connolly at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle.

With Cannon, Kline and Devey available, one can easily see why Belichick sees an O-line rotation in New England’s future.

“We have five linemen so we’ll plan the way we think will give us the best chance to win,” Belichick said Friday.

Read More: Jordan Devey, Josh Kline, Logan Mankins, Marcus Cannon
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