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Patriots' O-line could change for 2011

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Dec. 11, 2010 @ 12:09 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

As much has been said about how young the Patriots are, the offense is still laden with veterans, especially on the O-line. QB Tom Brady has handed off to different running backs this year and thrown to new tight ends, but he is used to the men protecting him.

C Dan Koppen is in his eighth season of snapping the ball to Brady. OLT Matt Light has spent 10 seasons protecting Brady's blind side. ORG Stephen Neal, who is on injured reserve, has been blocking in New England for nine seasons, and OLG Logan Mankins is in his sixth season. The newest name is ORT Sebastian Vollmer, in his second season.

OL Dan Connolly, who spent the first half of the season at left guard, has taken over at right guard for Neal. He also serves as the team's short-yardage fullback.

There could be some turnover, though, on the line in 2011. Neal contemplated retirement last spring, and a season-ending shoulder injury could make that a reality for him next offseason. Mankins and Light will be free agents.

The team is clearly pleased with the way Connolly has filled in, and he could earn a starting job next season. We hear that Vollmer, who started eight games as a rookie and has performed admirably on the right side, starting every game this season, is the left tackle of the future. The team may part ways with Light if they don't sign him to a one-year extension, armed with confidence in Vollmer's ability to protect Brady's blind side.

Then there's the injured Nick Kaczur, a backup tackle who has some versatility. Kaczur's back injury forced him to miss this entire season, but he could be part of a new rotation next year if guys retire or are not re-signed.

Second-year OL Ryan Wendell replaces Connolly on the O-line in short-yardage situations. He's another young player who could battle for playing time next season.

With six picks in the first three rounds and some question marks surrounding who will return to the Pats' O-line, another option would be going to the draft, an arena in which the Patriots have been very successful the past few years (they drafted Light, Koppen, Mankins and Vollmer). The Patriots tend to favor smart, tough and versatile linemen who can be plugged in at multiple spots.

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