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Most Important Patriots of 2016: No. 17, Sebastian Vollmer 07.05.16 at 11:45 am ET
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Sebastian Vollmer has been a starter pretty much since he arrived in Foxboro in 2009.  (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vollmer has been a starter pretty much since he arrived in Foxboro in 2009. (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.

17. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer

Height: 6-foot-8
Weight: 320 pounds
Age: 31 (Turns 32 on July 10)

Resume: Vollmer has managed to build a rep as one of the more underrated members of the New England team since he first arrived as a second-round pick (58th overall) out of the University of Houston in 2009. The big German struggled with injury over the last few years (he played in just six games in 2011 and eight games in 2013), including issues with his back, leg and head. But when he’s been healthy, he’s provided excellent protection for the quarterback — he was a second-team All-Pro in 2010 and a second-team All-NFL offensive tackle (per Pro Football Focus) in 2012 and 2014. Hard to believe, but there are only four players on the roster older than Vollmer, who has come a long way from not being invited to the combine as a college prospect.

Why we ranked him here: As we have argued on several occasions, it is really hard to quantify good offensive line play. Many times, it’s not the best five linemen, but the five who work best as a unit. That being said, it’s hard not to equate a healthy “Seabass” with a successfully New England offense. In short, his veteran status on the roster, his ability — when healthy — to provide excellent protection for the franchise quarterback against the demons who live out there on the edge, as well as his versatility all combine to give him a spot on our list. Last season, after left tackle Nate Solder was lost for the year with a biceps injury, he flipped over to the left side and did as well as could be expected under the circumstances.

One more note in Vollmer’s favor? The drop-off from New England’s starting offensive tackle duo of Vollmer and Solder to the third and fourth guys on the depth chart. If one or both tackles go down, it doesn’t matter how quickly Tom Brady gets rid of the football, it’s going to have a significant impact on the offense. As a result, when it comes to determining overall value, it’s hard to argue against putting him in the Top 20.

Quote: “He’s been such a dependable player for us since he got here. He’s been phenomenal. He’s just a great player, great person, great teammate, always prepared. Football is very important to him, and I love playing with him.” — Brady on Vollmer, 11/4/15

“I think Sebastian has done a good job for us. I think it’s a tough switch. It’s kind of going from doing everything one way – all your footwork and punching and leverage and everything you do and then flipping it over and doing it the exact opposite way. From a technique standpoint, it’s definitely challenging on top of the fact that you’re working with different people on the other side of the line and there’s that timing and being able to see things the same as the person next to you, but it’s a different person and sometimes we all see the same thing just a little bit differently. Getting all that together, it takes time, it takes work, it’s not easy, but I think all that being said, he’s done a great job of making that transition over there the last couple weeks. We’ve really needed him to do that. Sebastian is one of the best teammates, a guy who always puts the team first as much as anybody we have on our team. He’s done that and done a good job of it for having had minimal practice at it, a few training camps and so forth. But he works hard and we’ve definitely been able to maintain a lot of our offensive production, so that’s been good.” — Bill Belichick on Vollmer switching from right tackle to left tackle, 11/2/15

Random note: Vollmer has 10 career playoff starts. That’s tied for fourth on the Patriots current roster with Patrick Chung. They’re behind Brady (31), Devin McCourty and Rob Ninkovich (13 each).

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Sebastian Vollmer: ‘We don’t need extra motivation for anything’ 05.17.16 at 4:22 pm ET
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Sebastian Vollmer speaks Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Sebastian Vollmer speaks Tuesday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Sebastian Vollmer wasn’t about to take the bait.

The 34-year-old veteran offensive tackle took time out from his offseason workout Tuesday at Gillette Stadium and spoke about the process of moving on and building something new for the coming season.

When last we saw the right tackle entering his eighth season in the NFL, he was playing left tackle on a make-shift offensive line that was manhandled by the defensive front of the eventual Super Bowl champion. It was a performance that precipitated the departure of offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo and ushered in the return of Dante Scarnecchia.

Did the way the season ended last year (losses in Miami and Denver) factor into inspiration for this year?

“It’s a new year. I feel like we don’t need extra motivation for anything,” Vollmer said. “I think we come out here and try to better yourself as a player, as a team, as a group, all that stuff. Putting in these hours and working toward the common goal. Now, it’s getting ready for OTAs next week and then we have training camp coming up and all that stuff. So, it’s a long road ahead. But it’s just doing what we’re told to do and grinding it out, really.

“It’s good. There’s a lot of new teammates, obviously,” Vollmer said of the re-worked offensive line. “It’s exciting for us to get to know them and all get on the same page with OTAs starting next week. Exciting times.”

Exciting indeed. Naturally, everyone wanted to get a feel for what it’s like to have Scarnecchia back in the budiling.

“Obviously, had him my first five years. Excellent coach. Can’t praise him high enough. So obviously, us as players we’re asked to do to the best of our abilities. We’re going to keep that approach the same. Expecting good things. I think he expects the best of us and himself. I think just the way he coaches, detail-oriented. He just gets the best out of you.”

Vollmer downplayed the familiarity aspect of Scarnecchia.

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Read More: Dante Scarnecchia, Dave DeGuglielmo, New England Patriots, nfl
Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line 02.20.16 at 6:06 am ET
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Injuries to the likes of Sebastian Vollmer (76) affected the Patriots' offensive line all season. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

Injuries to the likes of Sebastian Vollmer (76) affected the Patriots’ offensive line all season. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand and what figures to be the strengths and weaknesses for the team at that position going forward. We started our overview with the quarterbacks, secondary, the running backs, the linebackers and the wide receivers. Now we move on to the offensive line:

Depth chart: LT Nate Solder, LG Josh Kline, C Bryan Stork, RG Tre’ Jackson, RT Sebastian Vollmer, G Shaq Mason, G/C David Andrews, T Marcus Cannon, T Cameron Fleming, T LaAdrian Waddle, G Chris Barker.

Overview: A breakdown is exactly what this group had in the second half of the 2015 season. The unit has already begun an overhaul from what was a tumultuous end to 2015. The line allowed four sacks of Tom Brady in the AFC championship and gave up a stunning 17 quarterback hits to the Denver defense. That combined with the pressure Brady felt throughout the second half of the season cost Dave DeGuglielmo his job and sparked the return from retirement of offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia. In defense of DeGuglielmo, the entire starting group was never on the field at once in 2015, as starting left tackle Nate Solder went down in Week 5 against Dallas with an arm injury. Starting center Bryan Stork didn’t debut in the regular season until Week 9 against the Redskins. Still, the line was one of the bright spots in the first half of the season, as the Patriots were going about their offensive routine without seemingly missing a beat, as first-year players David Andrews (filling in for Stork at center) and guards Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson did their jobs at a very solid level. Age and health are two major concerns at the tackle spots. Solder has been remarkably resilient in dealing with testicular cancer and now a torn biceps. Vollmer, who turns 32 in July, has dealt with a bad back, concussions and a broken leg. He played in the playoffs with a bad ankle sprain when Joey Iosefa fell on it during the loss to the Jets in Week 16.

An re-dedication to the running game would start with an effort upfront to win one-on-one battles, something they could not do in the second half of the season on a regular basis and certainly failed at in the AFC championship. As we noted in the overview of the running backs, a big key to the Patriots’ running game in 2016 will be the continued development of rookie guards Shaq Mason (drafted out of Georgia Tech for his run-blocking skill) and Tre’ Jackson. If those two, along with third-year center Bryan Stork mature in the middle of the line, the Patriots’ running game could pick up where it left off when Lewis was injured.

The Patriots most certainly figure to address the top-tier depth of the offensive line through free agency (like Jacksonville’s Stefen Wisniewski) and/or in the higher rounds of the draft. The Patriots need to re-establish the toughness they showed after Week 4 in 2014, when they began winning one-on-one battles on a regular basis.

Who will stay? The easy ones are Solder (signed through 2017), Stork, Mason, Jackson, Andrews, Kline (signed through 2017). The question marks are Vollmer (signed through 2016) and Cannon (signed through 2016), Waddle, Barker

Who will go? Fleming.

By the numbers: 12 — The Patriots had twelve different starting offensive line combinations in 18 games this season, thanks to the injuries that began with Bryan Stork’s neck/concussion at the beginning of the season and carried through with Solder’s biceps, Vollmer’s ankle and the knees of Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason.

Read More: 2016 position-by-position breakdown, Cam Fleming, Dante Scarnecchia, Dave DeGuglielmo
How big a difference will Sebastian Vollmer make in return? ‘I’m preparing myself to play’ 01.13.16 at 9:54 pm ET
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Sebastian Vollmer (76) could be a huge factor in giving Tom Brady time to throw Saturday. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Sebastian Vollmer (76) could be a huge factor in giving Tom Brady time to throw Saturday. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

FOXBORO — The moment Sebastian Vollmer went down in the first quarter against the Jets on Dec. 27, the Patriots offensive line became weaker.

And Tom Brady became more vulnerable in the pocket. With an offensive line of Cameron Fleming, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Tre’ Jackson and Marcus Cannon, Brady was sacked twice and took several big hits in a 20-10 loss to the Dolphins in the season finale.

That’s why the return of the left tackle from a left ankle injury could be as significant as that of Julian Edelman for the Patriots against Kansas City this Saturday.

“I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m preparing myself to play and the rest we’ll find out on Saturday,” Vollmer said Wednesday.

As he was being carted off the field at MetLife Stadium, many watching figured his season was done. But when he got the news that it was just a sprain, he was relieved.

“That’s in the past. It doesn’t matter now,” Vollmer said Wednesday when asked about his thoughts when he was being driven off the turf and into the Patriots locker room.

What does matter is how much Vollmer, if he does return at close to full strength, can help with the likes of pass rushers Tamba Hali (thumb), Justin Houston (knee) and Dee Ford, with Hali and Houston both dealing with injuries this season.

“It’s the playoffs. I don’t think anyone is 100 percent out there,” Vollmer said. “It’s just part of the game. It’s a physical game. He’s a force out there. He has been a long time. He’s given us a lot of problems, he’s given a lot of guys problems. Houston on the other side, and [Dee] Ford and whoever it is. They’re all good. They’re fourth in sacks this year and it shows.”

The Chiefs had 47 sacks this season with Houston (7.5), Hali (6.5) and Jaye Howard (5.5) combining for 19.5 of them.

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Read More: 2016 NFL playoffs, Josh Kline, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots
Julian Edelman reportedly expected back for divisional round 01.03.16 at 10:31 am ET
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — If all goes according to plan, Sunday will be the last game the Patriots play without Julian Edelman.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Edelman is on track to return for the divisional round, which would be either January 16 or 17. The Patriots have been without him since he suffered a broken bone in his foot against the Giants Nov. 15.

Schefter adds Sebastian Vollmer is also expected back for the divisional round. He injured his ankle last week against the Jets and is inactive against the Dolphins.

With a win against the Dolphins on Sunday, the Patriots clinch the AFC’s No. 1 overall seed. They have already clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer,
Rob Ninkovich, Jonathan Freeny return to practice, Sebastian Vollmer still absent 12.31.15 at 11:34 am ET
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Tom Brady and Julian Edelman stretch before practice Thursday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Tom Brady and Julian Edelman stretch before practice Thursday. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — In a sign that they could be ready to play Sunday if needed, linebackers Rob Ninkovich (shin) and Jonathan Freeny (hand) returned to practice Thursday in sweats and shells outside Gillette Stadium.

The only two players not spotted were left tackle Sebastian Vollmer and defensive back Justin Coleman. Vollmer injured his left ankle last Sunday in the first quarter of the loss to the Jets while Coleman is still undergoing concussion protocol from last week’s game.

Freeny and Patrick Chung were wearing red non-contact jerseys during the media portion of the workout, which was limited to stretching. It was the second straight day Chung was on hand wearing the red jersey.

Mother nature cooperated for the final practice in Foxboro for 2015 as the lower grass field was splashed with sunshine and temperatures in the upper 40s.

The team conducted Thursday’s practice for Foxboro before scheduling their departure for South Florida later in the afternoon. The team will practice Friday in the Fort Lauderdale area for a final time before taking on the 5-10 Dolphins Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Read More: Jonathan Freeny, Justin Coleman, New England Patriots, Rob Ninkovich
Dont’a Hightower, Julian Edelman among 9 limited at Patriots practice 12.30.15 at 4:25 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

FOXBORO — The Patriots are clearly banged up going into the regular-season finale Sunday against the Dolphins.

Four players didn’t practice at all on Wednesday, while nine were limited, including Dont’a Hightower, who wasn’t spotted during the media availability period. Also among the limited were Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and Scott Chandler.

Rob Ninkovich, Jonathan Freeny, Sebastian Vollmer and Justin Coleman didn’t practice at all.

Defensive end Chandler Jones was a full participant with an abdomen injury.

Here is the complete Patriots injury report:

DID NOT PRACTICE

DE Rob Ninkovich (leg)
DB Justin Coleman (concussion)
LB Jonathan Freeny (hand)
OT Sebastian Vollmer (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPANT

WR Danny Amendola (knee)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
TE Scott Chandler (knee)
S Patrick Chung (foot)
S Devin McCourty (ankle)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee)
WR Brandon LaFell (foot)
G Josh Kline (shoulder)
OT LaAdrian Waddle (shoulder)

FULL PARTICIPANT

DE Chandler Jones (abdomen)

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Read More: Dont'a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, Sebastian Vollmer,
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