|Countdown to camp: Offensive line||07.23.15 at 11:12 am ET|
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.)
|Report: Sebastian Vollmer had offseason shoulder surgery||03.25.15 at 10:11 am ET|
For the Patriots, linebacker Dont’a Hightower isn’t the only player to have offseason shoulder surgery.
According to ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer underwent shoulder surgery after the Super Bowl. The surgery has reportedly altered his offseason to more of a focus on rehabilitation rather than a traditional workout regimen.
The report adds the surgery was to Vollmer’s labrum, although it was never serious enough to keep him out of game action. Vollmer is spending time at Gillette Stadium now rehabbing the injury and is expected to be ready “for action when it counts.”
Vollmer was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft and has spent all seven seasons in the league with the Patriots, emerging as one of the better right tackles in the league.
For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.
|Patriots offensive line at full strength vital to offense, Tom Brady’s success||01.07.15 at 7:00 am ET|
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.”
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.”
|Patriots OL needs to be better going into postseason||12.28.14 at 7:57 pm ET|
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.”
|Cameron Wake on success against Patriots: Big players have to step up in big games and make big plays||12.11.14 at 6:00 am ET|
Wake has picked up 8.5 sacks in 11 career games against the Patriots, including two in this season’s opener, which make him one of the tougher defensive ends the Patriots go up against all year. Making matters even worse, since he is in their division they have to face him twice.
“It might help that we play them twice a year. That might throw the numbers in there a little bit,” Wake said of his success against the Patriots on a conference call Wednesday. “I feel like every time we go out there, usually it’s a big game. The minute I started playing boy’s club basketball, my coach told me big players have to step up in big games and make big plays. Obviously, these are big games when we come to face each other. I look at myself as a big player, and I feel like whatever I can do to help the team out, whatever my role is, and occasionally it is getting to the quarterback. I try my best to get the job done.”
The Penn State product lines up on the left side of the defense more often that not and says that is mostly because of his early years with the Dolphins when veteran Jason Taylor was occupying the right side, leaving no where else for Wake to go. With the success that he’s had, he’s continued to rush almost exclusively from that side.
This makes for an intense matchup each time the Patriots and Dolphins meet with Wake and Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
“When you start to go after guys and start playing more and more and more, you get familiar with each other,” said Wake. “Obviously, he’s going to do everything to play to his strengths and so am I. That familiarity is something that you both have to overcome. He’s studying everything he can to make his day successful on Sunday and so am I. Another good football player, a guy who is going to battle you and fight you every day and every snap, every time we grind against each other.
|Patriots offensive line continues to make changes, struggling to find right combination||09.30.14 at 12:29 am ET|
The Patriots made a few changes to the struggling offensive line prior to Monday’s game against the Chiefs by starting two rookies — Bryan Stork at center and Cameron Fleming at right guard (his first time ever playing the position), as well as moving Dan Connolly to left guard.
In addition, the team deactivated Jordan Devey, who had started the first three games of the season. Even with the changes, it did not stick as the team continued to rotate players in and out almost every series throughout the game trying to find a combination that works.
Here is our breakdown of the line (left tackle to right tackle) for each of their 11 drives:
- Drive 1: Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Sebastian Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 2: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 3: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 4: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Marcus Cannon (Punt)
- Drive 5: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 6: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Fumble)
- Drive 7: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Interception)
- Drive 8: Cannon, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Touchdown)
- Drive 9: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Ryan Wendell, Vollmer (Interception)
- Drive 10: Solder: Wendell, Stork, Fleming, Cannon (Touchdown)
- Drive 11: Cannon, Wendell, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
|5 things you have to know about Dolphins||09.01.14 at 9:35 pm ET|
Here are five things you have to know about the Dolphins, who are looking to break the Patriots’ 10-game winning streak when it comes to regular-season openers Sunday in South Florida.
1. They are going to look to push the pace offensively.
Miami imported former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to serve as its new OC, and in an attempt to give the offense a jolt, he’s expected to bring a little Chip Kelly-style flair to the proceedings. That means faster football, and given the fact that the Patriots will be entering into what’s expected to be sweltering South Florida heat, the Dolphins will try and use a quicker tempo to their advantage. For what it’s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL. Of course, it’s debatable how effective the uptempo style will be. But it’s important to remember that Lazor played a sizable role in the growth and development of Nick Foles in Philly’s fast scheme last year, as Foles went from backup quarterback to SI cover boy in the span of a few months and the Eagles went from worst (4-12 and last in the NFC East) to first (10-6 and a division title) under Kelly. It’s clear Miami is hoping that Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense can respond the same way in 2014.
2. They are all-in at wide receiver.
The Dolphins have really gone above and beyond when it comes to giving Ryan Tannehill enough options. With the cap hit for Mike Wallace ballooning to $17.25 million this year, the Dolphins are spending a whopping $29.6 million on their 2014 wide receivers’by far the most in the league, according to a June study by CBS Sports. Wallace, Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson are joined by rookie Jarvis Landry to form a relatively deep group of wide receivers, one that will serve as a nice challenge for a revamped New England secondary at the start of the season. (Some believe Lazor will try and use Wallace in much the same manner the Eagles did with DeSean Jackson, which is an intriguing concept.)
3. The interior of their offensive line is vulnerable.
The Dolphins have struggled with their offensive line dating back to last year — from a pure football perspective, the Incognito-Martin imbroglio simply shone a light on things. Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks of Tannehill last season, 10 more than the second-place finish (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was sacked 48 times) and tied for 10th most all-time in a single season. (For some perspective, Houston’s David Carr was sacked an astounding 76 times in 2002, the all-time mark.) Here’s a highlight reel of all 58 sacks, a sequence that lasts almost 10 minutes.
In all, Tannehill has been sacked 93 times in his first two years in the league. (We haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Miami running game was 26th in the league last season — a sizable portion of the blame for those numbers can also be attributed to the offensive line.) And so it was no surprise the Dolphins made offensive line a priority this offseason. They stabilized their left tackle spot with the addition of Branden Albert, while they used their first round pick on Ja’Wuan James, who appears to be the Week 1 right tackle for Miami. But things are still very rough along the interior, as center Mike Pouncey continues to work his way back from offseason hip surgery (Samson Satele will get the start in his place), while guard play has been questionable at best over the course of the summer. Bottom line? If you want to attack this offense, your best bet appears to be up the gut.
4. Their pass rush will test the New England offensive line early.
Left defensive end Cameron Wake (8.5 sacks last year) and right defensive end Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks last year) combine to form a very nice set of bookends, and are likely the top priority when it comes to pass protection for the Patriots. (Per Football Outsiders, Wake notched at least 20 hurries and 20 quarterback knockdowns for the fourth year in a row.) While the Dolphins are very good off the edge, it would ostensibly be a strength-on-strength matchup against right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left tackle Nate Solder. Miami could have an edge if it finds a way to get pressure up the middle, as the interior of New England’s offensive line has some personnel questions, particularly if Marcus Cannon is utilized more as a backup swing tackle than one of the two available guard spots. But many of the questions people have had about the overall fitness of the Patriots offensive line will be answered against a pretty good front seven in the opener.
5. They are ready for Rob Gronkowski … if the big tight end does play.
The Dolphins hardly sounded shocked at the proclamation from Gronkowski that he was good to go for Week 1. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was asked about Gronkowski’s statement that he was going to play, and he responded with a simple, ‘We assumed that he might.’ In Gronkowski’s career, the Patriots are 6-0 against Miami when he’s in the lineup, but for what it’s worth, the Dolphins have actually done a pretty fair job at containing Gronkowski over the years: In six career games against Miami, he’s averaged four catches, 56 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game, some of his lowest per game averages against a regular opponent. (In his last two games against Miami, Gronkowski had only only four catches.) It remains to be seen if Gronkowski actually plays, and if he does, how many snaps he’ll take. (His overall football fitness remains in question, and Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that you just can run around a track a few times and be ready to play.) But history tells us that the Dolphins have found a way to not stop him completely, but at least slow him down to a point where he not the runaway offensive force he’s been against most teams when he’s been healthy. “He’s an excellent player,” Philbin said Monday when asked about Gronkowski. “He’s been a very, very productive player throughout his career. We’ll have a good plan in place, but he’s certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We’ll be ready for him, for sure.”