This is part four of an eight-part series.
The offensive line had to play without LT Matt Light for the first time in 11 years. They were without guard Brian Waters, a Pro Bowl selection in 2011. Longtime center Dan Koppen was cut, leaving Ryan Wendell to man the position.
Even with changes to 60 percent of the offensive line, the unit was better. Maybe that’s stretching it, but in certain statistical categories, the O-line in 2012 improved on the numbers set by the team in 2011.
They gave up five less sacks from the year before. Especially pleasing was the running game, which gained 420 more yards than the year before and averaged .2 yards per carry more.
Yes, it was a good year for the offensive line. Now the question is: will they stay together? RT Sebastian Vollmer is on the cusp of free agency. At 28 years old, Vollmer is in the prime of his career and should have several more years of productivity ahead of him.
Vollmer is bound to attract attention from several teams, unless New England slaps the franchise tag on him ($9.66 million projected for offensive linemen in 2013). But any team that signs him has to be sure that Vollmer’s back won’t be a chronic problem.
Vollmer’s back has been troubling him for years, and before a team invests a chunk of their payroll on Vollmer, they want to be sure that Vollmer will stay healthy.
If anyone knows Vollmer’s back, it would be the Patriots, as New England’s training staff has been working on it for years. Maybe this additional insight will eliminate any concerns about re-signing Vollmer.
And why wouldn’t they? Vollmer is considered one of the best right tackles in the NFL. For the second year in a row, he was selected to the second team All-NFL by different media outlets (2011 Associated Press, 2012 Pro Football Focus).
Even though Marcus Cannon did a good job filling in for Vollmer, to believe that Cannon can replace Vollmer full time is a radical jump to conclusion. The Patriots should do their best to keep Vollmer in New England.
Cannon isn’t the only reserve that deserves a nod for playing well when called upon. Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas more than held their ground with their opportunities. Thomas, though, is a free agent, and he could be courted by other teams with generous pay increases and promises to start. He would be a tough loss for the Patriots.
But not as tough a loss as Vollmer. Keeping the starting five of Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Vollmer together will only make them better as their continuity improves.
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