Every year, each team has to deal with one serious area of weakness. They end up compensating for this area all season long, constantly trying to plug in new personnel to mask the issues.
For the 2012 Patriots, it’s looking to be a long year on the offensive line. With long-time left tackle Matt Light retiring in the offseason, it was inevitable that unit was going to go through some growing pains as second-year tackle Nate Solder was being groomed to replace Light.
But Solder has been the least of the O-Line’s problems. In fact, he’s been a shining star in camp, aggressive and consistent in his battles with linebackers like Chandler Jones and Brandon Spikes.
The real issue has been injuries. And they just continue to pile up. Guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer have both been sitting out while recovering from injury and it seems with each new practice, there’s a new lineman down on the sidelines. On Sunday, it was rookie Darrion Weems and sophomore Kyle Hix who both didn’t finish the day. These aren’t even projected starters, but it’s still notable since depth is critical and the Pats are running out of it.
Beyond just injury, veterans the team had been counting on haven’t panned out.
Robert Gallery, an eight-year veteran brought in this offseason to be the elder statesman on the line, decided to retire late last week instead of giving the season a try. According to sources, he tried to prepare his body for the grind of camp and a new season, but the wear and tear was just too much. Can’t fault a guy for trying to see the big picture and not subjecting himself to undo stress on his body, but still. It was a disappointing development, one coach Bill Belichick still told reporters he could “respect.”
Brian Waters, last year’s starting guard, never reported to camp, although there is hope he’s just skipping training camp and will be ready to go come September.
So, with a preseason battle against the New Orleans Saints looming this Thursday, it’s anyone’s guess who’s going to see time along the offensive line. The bright spot for the Pats here though is O-Line coach Dante Scarnecchia. He handpicks each lineman the team brings in and trains them up so they’re ready to step in when necessary. It can’t be said enough how critical the offensive line is to the Patriots success. Without Tom Brady having time to survey the field and find the right receiver, the Pats can kiss their white-hot offensive prowess behind.
Here’s hoping Scarnecchia’s hard work can help cushion the blow of injuries to this group until more players are back on their feet.