Yesterday the Patriots took to the practice field with an unfamiliar opponent: the New Orleans Saints. As they’ve done in the past, the two teams held joint practices ahead of their preseason match-up, happening tomorrow.
While the Pats fared well in 1-on-1 drills, team drills were not quite as good. In fact, the team was downright sloppy, with the offense struggling particularly hard. The defense actually outshined them overall. Safety Patrick Chung and rookie linebacker Chandler Jones were particularly good. So while it wasn’t an all around great effort, it’s early August. Perspective is important before we start slamming the panic button.
Unfortunately, there is a need for at least a little concern surrounding the offense, although not enough to merit the Chicken Little-esque response of many. That problem we’ve been talking about around here for a week is rearing its ugly head early and often. The Patriots offensive line situation is in complete disarray, and it’s affecting the entire unit. Think of the offensive line like the rudder of a ship; if the rudder is broken, how is the boat supposed to stay on track? It won’t. Everything the offense does starts with the five big guys up front. Right now, second-year left tackle Nate Solder is the stud of the group, and while he’s had a great camp, that doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of the players.
Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left guard Logan Mankins, both starters, are on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list due to a back and knee injury respectively. Last year’s starting right guard Brian Waters did not report to camp, although many are hopeful he will be back in time for the start of the season.
It’s no secret quarterback Tom Brady is the key to the Pats success on any given Sunday. If he doesn’t stay upright, that’s an issue. So the offensive line problem has to be resolved, and soon. But it’s not that easy. While the Patriots have gone out and tried to sign guys who can fill the holes (including today’s signee, rookie Kyle Hill), you don’t just replace a Vollmer or a Mankins without taking a pretty sizable step down on the talent chain.
But, let us not be discouraged by a poor practice day. There have been many good things to come out of Pats camp thus far, and there will be many more improvements made over the course of the next month (that’s right, there’s still a month to go before any of this really counts for anything).
Just remember: there are few teams who have fared as well as the Patriots in recent years with minimal talent (no disrespect to anyone). Bill Belichick and his coaches can take a player and squeeze every ounce of football talent out of them. They’ve done it before; they’ll do it again.