For offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, it must seem like the more things change, the more they stay the same. He has constantly been faced with the challenge of working with marginal talent on the offensive line, but has risen to the challenge time after time.
The news, per ESPN Boston, that Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins will start training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list is just the latest hurdle. But that's not the only hurdle he faces this year, with the threat of drastic turnover on the offensive line looming large for the 2012 season.
This is far from the final nail in the coffin for Mankins, who underwent surgery in February to repair a torn ACL.
The four-time Pro Bowl lineman can be removed from the list at any time. ...the team has more than a month before it would have to make a decision on whether to place Mankins on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, which would keep him out for at least the first six weeks of the season.
Mankins may still be back, but if he's not ready to start the season, there could be some serious continuity issues on the offensive line.
Mankins and Vollmer could both miss time due to injuries. Guard Brian Waters could still opt for retirement rather than another season in the NFL (although Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe continually states he's coming back). Center Dan Koppen is trying to come back for one last go-round after a Week 1 ankle injury derailed his 2011 season.
Throw in the retirement of Matt Light, and it's feasible that the entire Week 1 starting offensive line of the 2011 season could be turned over for Week 1 of the 2012 season.
Good friend Mike Dussault of PatsPropaganda.com pointed out some eerie possibilities for starting line combinations, including one combination that includes Ryan Wendell, but the Patriots may not be that desperate as long as Waters is back.
Make no mistake, the Patriots will miss Mankins while he's gone. He has been one of the most efficient guards in the game over the past three years, according to Pro Football Focus, but Mankins brings so much more than that. They lack a true toughness and mean streak on the interior offensive line without him, but they have gotten by without him before and they can do it again.
This is about more than just Mankins, though. With Vollmer missing from practice and continually a victim of back injuries, it's fair to lose a little faith in his reliability. Should the Patriots roll out the Civil War Cannon? Is he ready, after spending most of the 2011 offseason recovering from treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma?
Perhaps Cannon could even fill in for Mankins? But then who fills in at right tackle if Vollmer goes down? These are all the details the Patriots will have to fill in during training camp. And as they begin that process, they'll be doing so without Mankins.
It may mean coaching up lesser talent, but if one man's up for the job, it's Scarnecchia. As a whole, though, this may be one of his toughest challenges yet.
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