5 Ways Patriots Can Make Up for Matt Light, Logan Mankins Absences

Oliver Thomas@OliverBThomasContributor IJune 27, 2012

5 Ways Patriots Can Make Up for Matt Light, Logan Mankins Absences

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    The New England Patriots are fortunate to have a deep and talented offensive line built on versatility.

    With left tackle Matt Light retiring after 11 seasons in New England and left guard Logan Mankins recovering from ACL surgery, other blockers must step into the void.

    Aside from the Light and Mankins situations, other questions have been raised when it comes to the future at right guard and right tackle.

    Here are five ways head coach Bill Belichick and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can make up for the absences on the Patriots offensive line.

Start Nate Solder at Left Tackle

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    When Nate Solder was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. Some may have wondered why New England would invest a top pick in a left tackle when Matt Light was playing well into his 30s.

    But with the 33-year-old Light now enjoying retirement, the picture is much clearer.

    Nate Solder is set to be the starting left tackle in 2012, and for many years to come. The 6'8", 320-pound Colorado Buffalo is built to protect the blindside of quarterback Tom Brady.

    In his rookie season, Solder took over at right tackle due to Sebastian Vollmer's back and ankle injuries, cites Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe. Although, Vollmer also saw time at left tackle and even tight end—a position he last played in college.

    By the end of the 2011 season, Solder played in all 16 games and made 13 starts. In 2012, expect the 24-year-old to start all 16.

Start Robert Gallery at Left Guard

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    Robert Gallery inked a deal with New England this March and is capable of cementing an area of need: left guard.

    Logan Mankins' ACL recovery could take until November, which would make him a candidate for the physically unable to perform list, reports ESPN's AFC East writer James Walker. If Mankins misses the first six weeks of the 2012 season, then Gallery could be called upon.

    The second overall selection in the 2004 draft, Gallery is a dependable lineman with plenty left to offer. At 6'7" and 320 pounds, the Iowa product is tall enough to block edge-rushers while also being stout enough to battle defensive tackles.

    During his eight years in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, Gallery has started 103 out of the 104 games he's played in. A seasoned starter with flexibility, Gallery could be the answer at left guard.

    That being said, it's too early in the game to completely write off Mankins, writes ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss:

    Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins had ACL surgery after the 2011 season, but I think it’s way too early to rule him out for the season-opener at Tennessee on Sept. 9. I wouldn’t bet against Mankins.

    If Mankins can play, he will. If he can't, Gallery will be waiting. In fact, he's already listed at No. 2 behind Mankins on the Patriots' website.

Get Brian Waters Back to New England's Practice Facilities

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    Right guard Brian Waters was a tremendous addition to the Patriots' offensive line in 2011. The longtime Kansas City Chief exceeded expectations—starting all 16 games while churning out a Pro Bowl season.

    Now, the 35-year old just needs to return to New England to stabilize the offensive line.

    After the Patriots' Super Bowl loss in February, Waters contemplated retirement, according to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.

    What was expected to take two to three weeks, however, is still up in the air. Waters has already missed OTAs and was excused mandatory minicamp.

    On May 24, the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe reported that Waters usually passes on offseason programs to spend more time with his family. Although with training camp looming, the time has come to hear a definitive answer from the 13-year vet.

    If Waters opts to play out the final year of his contract with the Patriots, then every piece of the offensive line would fall into place.

    Regardless of whether or not Waters rejoins the team, a backup plan must be devised.

If Waters Retires, Start Dan Connolly at Right Guard

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    Dan Connolly may be in competition with nine-year veteran Dan Koppen for the starting job at center, reports Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe. Yet his services could be needed elsewhere.

    The 29-year-old Connolly has played all across the interior of the Patriots' o-line. Currently, the Southeast Missouri State alum is listed as the No. 2 center and right guard on New England's unofficial depth chart.

    In 2011, Connolly started 11 games after replacing Koppen, who broke his ankle in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.

    If Connolly gets the nod at right guard, then Koppen could remain at center, where he's been a sure thing in front of quarterback Tom Brady.

    The Sports XChange's Len Pasquarelli offered a similar premise:

    It could be that the loser of the Dan Connolly/Dan Koppen competition at center ends up playing some at guard. Tom Brady absorbed 32 sacks in 2011, the most he has suffered since 2003, so the blocking unit already had some concerns.

    Connolly's future is hinging Brian Waters. Nevertheless, No. 63 has showcased he can do a little bit of everything—even return kicks.

Groom Marcus Cannon into a Future Starter

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    The Boston Globe's Greg A. Bedard reports that starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer underwent a back procedure this offseason and should be set for training camp.

    Although if he runs into complications like he did in 2006 at the University of Houston, another tackle is in the fold.

    Enter Marcus Cannon.

    Cannon is only 24, but he's already overcome a great deal in his life. Prior to the 2011 NFL draft, the TCU Horned Frog was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

    When the Patriots drafted him in Round 5, they knew they were getting a talented guard/tackle, but Cannon had to undergo chemotherapy to beat cancer first.

    In Week 11 of last season, Cannon was activated and played in his first NFL game at right tackle. Cannon saw action in the last seven games of the regular season and received the Patriots' Ed Block Courage Award for overcoming the greatest of obstacles.

    While the 27-year-old Vollmer is entering the final year of his rookie contract, Cannon is returning for his second NFL season.

    The 6'5", 340-pound blocker was one of the most talented offensive linemen in the 2011 class, and the Patriots have benefited from taking a late-round flier on the cancer survivor.

    He may not be ready to start right away, but Cannon could be New England's future starting right tackle if anything happens to Vollmer.