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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/WEEI.com)

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

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,
Reggie Wayne (No. 15) debuts at Patriots practice, Aaron Dobson, Travaris Cadet, Ryan Wendell return 08.25.15 at 4:09 pm ET
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Ryan Wendell

Ryan Wendell

FOXBORO — It was a day of significant returns and debuts at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots returned to the practice field on Tuesday in shorts and shells and Reggie Wayne was on the field wearing his new No. 15 and working with Tom Brady and the wide receivers.

Several players made a return to practice including receiver Aaron Dobson, third down back Travaris Cadet and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell. Receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Scott Chandler were also on the field during the beginning portion of the practice that was open to the media.

Also back on the field were defensive linemen Rufus Johnson and Trey Flowers, both injured in the preseason opener against the Packers on Aug. 13.

There were ten players not spotted at practice, including Brandon LaFell, rookie cornerback Darryl Roberts, linebackers Dekoda Watson and Dane Fletcher, offensive linemen Marcus Cannon, Chris Barker and Bryan Stork, defensive lineman Joe Vellano, defensive lineman Chris Jones and tight end Jake Bequette.

The Patriots will practice again on Wednesday before leaving on Thursday for Charlotte and preseason game No. 3 against the Panthers on Friday night.

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Read More: New England Patriots, Reggie Wayne, ryan wendell,
What to watch for Thursday night in Packers-Patriots preseason opener 08.13.15 at 10:52 am ET
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Jimmy Garoppolo figures to get plenty of snaps Thursday against the Packers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jimmy Garoppolo figures to get plenty of snaps Thursday against the Packers. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here are six things we’ll be looking for Thursday night when the Patriots meet the Packers in the preseason opener for both teams:

1. Jimmy Garoppolo.

The youngster will be in the spotlight for an extended stretch against the Packers, as Tom Brady is not expected to play and Ryan Lindley only showed up earlier this week. It’ll also be a good “what if” exercise if Brady ends up having to sit for any amount of time to start the season. It’s worth noting that Garoppolo got the start in last year’s preseason opener against the Redskins and ended up a respectable 9-for-13 for 157 yards and a touchdown. One thing that could be working against Garoppolo when it comes to measuring his overall performance will be the fact that he may not have some of the more important offensive difference-makers around him against Green Bay, particularly in the passing game. Julian Edelman has been limited in practice as of late, while Brandon LaFell has been on PUP since the start of camp. (For what it’€™s worth, Rob Gronkowski is expected to play.) In addition, running back LeGarrette Blount is dealing with a knee issue. While it will be a good chance to see how he responds to a stressful situation — as well as how much cohesiveness he’s developed with some of the rest of the offensive skill position players — his performance should be judged accordingly.

2. Guard positions.

Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo said at the start of camp that they have been focused on trying out a lot of different combinations up front, but when it appears that the starting offensive line has been in there, it’s included rookies Tre’ Jackson (at right guard) and Shaq Mason (at left guard) running with the ones. Jackson has really impressed, and certainly appears pro ready at this stage of his development. It’s unclear what that might mean for the future of veteran right guard Ryan Wendell, but Jackson appears to be on the fast track. Mason doesn’t quite appear to be a finished product like Jackson (which is to be expected, having come from a run-based offense at Georgia Tech), but expect both to get an extended run against the Packers in their first NFL preseason game.

3. Josh Boyce.

If there’s one young receiver who has done really well to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him this summer, it’s been Boyce. With LaFell and Aaron Dobson missing practices over the last week and Edelman limited, Boyce has slid nicely into the role of intermediate and deep threat, connecting with Tom Brady on a number of nice throws. (A deep ball from Brady to Boyce deep down the middle of the field for a touchdown was one of the most impressive plays of camp.) Boyce has also shown up positively as a kick returner, and while Danny Amendola likely has that job on lockdown at this point in the summer, the fact that he has shown the ability to contribute in the passing game as well as special teams is a good sign that Boyce might be able to make the leap from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. The next step for him? Put together a strong performance Thursday night against the Packers.

4. Malcolm Butler.

Butler is not Darrelle Revis. What he has become is a pretty good corner — the best on the roster over the first two weeks of camp, in fact. The Super Bowl hero will now get his opportunity to start building on his strong finish to the 2014 season and solid start to 2015 with some game reps. It’s not known how much the Packers will play their starters, but if Green Bay has them on the field for the first couple of series and Butler is out there, it’ll be a good chance to see the progression that Butler has made over the course of the summer. Barring a trade, he’ll be the leader of the New England cornerbacks this season. It will be interesting to see how he responds to that challenge. (He’s been lined up at left corner for most of the summer — we’ll see if that continues Thursday against the Packers as well.)

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Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jordan Richards, Josh Boyce, Malcolm Butler
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
Nate Solder on touchdown catch: ‘There is no way to know that was coming’ 01.19.15 at 12:52 am ET
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Nate Solder's touchdown catch drew the praise of the entire Patriots' offensive line. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Nate Solder‘s touchdown catch drew the praise of the entire Patriots’ offensive line. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots and their trickery were at it again.

On the opening drive of the second half, with the Patriots leading  the Colts, 17-7, it was third-and-1 on the Colts’ 16-yard line and left tackle Nate Solder reported as an eligible receiver.

The Colts expected quarterback Tom Brady to hand it off to LeGarrette Blount with the Patriots running it down their throats on the drive, but Brady faked the hand off and Solder slipped behind the defense and caught a 16-yard touchdown pass, diving into the end zone before he could be brought down.

It was Solder’s first career catch, although he did play some tight end in college at the University of Colorado.

“There is no way to know that was coming,” the humble Solder said after the game. “When the time came I did my best as anyone would’ve.”

Asked how he would rate his route on the catch, Solder couldn’t do anything but laugh.

“Just proficient,” he said. “I made it across the goal line.”

It was the second straight week the Patriots called a “trick play,” as in last week’s divisional round win over the Ravens, Josh McDaniels called a double-pass when Julian Edelman found Danny Amendola for a 51-yard touchdown strike.

“I feel fortunate to be a part of this group,” said Solder. “We have great coaches, great players. To be a part of this group is amazing.”

The touchdown electrified the Patriots’ sideline and was the start of 28 second half points for New England, including 21 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. The biggest celebration on the sidelines and on the field was with his fellow offensive linemen.

“Those are my guys, those are my guys,” Solder said. “To be around them, the excitement that they shared with me, it was like we all did it. That was a lot of fun.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Nate Solder, ryan wendell,
Patriots offensive line at full strength vital to offense, Tom Brady’s success 01.07.15 at 7:00 am ET
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Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman — three very important pieces to the Patriots’ offense, but are they the most important?

Not be to overlooked is the Patriots’ offensive line, especially with the group likely getting back to full strength this week against Baltimore, as Dan Connolly is set to return. This will be especially important going against a Ravens defense, which finished second in the regular season in sacks with 49.

“I’€™m just excited to be back at practice,” Connolly said Tuesday after missing the last two games with a knee injury. “I’€™m going to do my best to work in and try to get as healthy as I can. But it’€™s good to be back out.”

All indications are the Patriots will get their starting offensive line back this week — (left tackle to right tackle) Nate Solder, Connolly, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer.

Just how important is a healthy offense line for the Patriots offense and Brady to be successful?

  • Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell, Vollmer (7-1 record) — Weeks 5, 8-14: Brady: 214-320 (66.9 percent), 2,433 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 QB rating, 4 sacks
  • Any combination besides above (5-3 record) — Weeks 1-4, 6, 7, 15, 16: Brady: 160-263 (60.8 percent), 1,675 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 89.8 QB rating, 17 sacks

It’s pretty clear having the starting offensive line together makes a huge difference for the offense, as well as Brady in a number of different ways. The biggest difference is sacks. In the same number of games (eight) there is a 13 sack difference between when the starting offensive line is playing and when they are not. In games not started by the regular offensive line, Brady has been sacked multiple times in five of the eight, and four times twice. In games started by the starting offensive line, they haven’t allowed a multiple sack game and had four games allowing zero sacks, which will be especially important this weekend against a strong Ravens defense.

“They’€™re great,” Connolly said of the Ravens’ pass rush. “[Elvis] Dumervil has got 19 sacks. They do a great job of getting to the quarterback. We’€™ve faced a lot of good D-lines this season. That’€™s nothing new in the NFL. It’€™s a lot of pressure on us to do a good job. That’€™s what we try to do every week. It’€™s our job to make sure Tom [Brady] stays upright, so that’€™s what we’€™re going to try to do this week, too.”

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Read More: 2015 playoffs, Bryan Stork, Dan Connolly, Nate Solder
Patriots OL needs to be better going into postseason 12.28.14 at 7:57 pm ET
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Ryan Wendell

Ryan Wendell

FOXBORO — If there is one thing to be hesitant about going into the postseason for the Patriots offense, it is the play of its offensive line.

Without starters Dan Connolly (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer (back), forcing a starting offensive line (left-to-right) of Nate Solder, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon Sunday against the Bills — Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, particularly Garoppolo in the second half, were under constant pressure all game long.

Overall, the Bills hit Patriots quarterbacks six times and recorded four sacks in the game. This comes after last week’s game against the Jets where the Patriots were reshuffling their line all game without Connolly to give Brady more time, but allowed a season-high four sacks and 11 quarterback hits.

“We didn’t play very well. We just didn’t do our jobs,” Wendell said Sunday.

The Patriots did some reshuffling again against the Bills, as late in the first half the Patriots subbed out Kline, and replaced him with Wendell at left guard and Cameron Fleming at right guard. Then, just before the half Solder appeared to injure his right leg on a play he was called for holding on. He finished the last minute of the half before limping to the locker room. In the second half, Cannon moved to left tackle, so the line went: Cannon, Kline, Stork, Wendell, Fleming.

Missing key players in Connolly and Vollmer, then losing Solder in the game made things difficult to get any sort of continuity up front.

“It was a good opportunity to get some other guys some reps,” Wendell said. “We’€™re going to need everybody moving forward. You never knew who’€™s going to get called up, so a game like this was a great opportunity to get a lot of those guys more reps that they normally don’€™t get.”

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Read More: Dan Connolly, Nate Solder, ryan wendell, Sebastian Vollmer
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