New England Patriots Position by Position Offseason Preview: Offensive Line

Randolph CharlotinAnalyst IIFebruary 24, 2012

Nate Solder gained valuable experience starting 13 games in his rookie year.
Nate Solder gained valuable experience starting 13 games in his rookie year.Winslow Townson/Getty Images

A lot of people wondered last year why the Patriots drafted Nate Solder in the first round when other needs, like a cornerback or a pass rusher, weren’t addressed first.

Now we know. Solder was expected to watch and learn but was starting at right tackle for Sebastian Vollmer by week one. By the end of the season Solder played in every game and started 13.

Solder wasn’t alone. Along the offensive line, only guard Brian Waters started every game. That opened up a lot of opportunities for playing time. Marcus Cannon, fresh from the physically unable to perform list, had a lot of relief work. Donald Thomas was a late addition to the roster and started one game. Even Nick McDonald got two starts. E-I-E-I-O.

With so many adjustments during the course of the season to cover for injuries, developing chemistry was difficult.

Against the odds, the O-line had a good year. According to Stats LLC, Dan Connolly allowed 1.5 sacks, Matt Light and Waters gave up 2.5 sacks, Logan Mankins  3.5, Vollmer 4, and Solder 6.5. 18 sacks combined by the linemen that dominated playing time is quite good. Overall the Patriots allowed 35 sacks, playoffs included.

Light had one of his finest seasons. Whether having Solder looking over his shoulder pushed the veteran, we’ll never know. New England was certainly glad they re-signed Light before the season. Enjoy Light while he’s still here, as he has a year left on his contract.

Some players might not be back for 2012. Dan Koppen, the starting center who was lost for the year in the season opener, is a free agent. Dan Connolly shifted from right guard to center after Koppen went down. Connolly is also a free agent.

Waters is still under contract, but after 12 seasons, is reportedly contemplating retirement.

With the playing time Solder and Cannon received, New England has great depth at tackle. New England isn’t worried about left guard with Mankins there, but they are thin at two interior line positions.

That depends on what the coaching staff thinks of McDonald and Thomas. If they feel both have the potential to start, then the line isn’t a problem. The release of G Rich Ohrnberger could be a vote of confidence for McDonald and Thomas.

Between Koppen and Connolly, the latter has a better chance of re-signing because he’s three years younger. While they could both draw interest from other teams, neither would break the bank, making them affordable to the Patriots.

Kyle Hix is the only developmental lineman currently on the roster. New England will find Hix some company in the draft. They drafted at least one offensive lineman in the third round or later in nine drafts since 2000.

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