Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton. A name that should leave a sour taste in any Patriots fan’s mouth after his dominant performance in last year’s AFC Championship Game. That quarterback over in Denver wasn’t the most valuable Bronco in that game. It was a defensive tackle. Pot Roast.
While Pot Roast has begun to establish himself as a great defensive tackle, he’s no “Mean Joe” Greene. He could have been contained in that game by a solid interior offensive line. LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell and RG Dan Connelly just didn’t do their job.
The Patriots defense held one of the greatest offenses in NFL history to 26 points in that game. That’s not why the Pats lost. They lost because the offense could only muster 16 measly points against a very poor Broncos defense.
Yet the defense attracted the most attention in the 2014 offseason. All the Patriots big moves were made on that side of the ball and for good reason. They needed help at cornerback—Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner should solve that problem. They needed defensive tackle depth—first-round draft pick Dominique Easley should solve that problem. But while those holes were getting filled, the glaring issues on the offensive line were getting neglected. Only a couple mid-round draft picks were dedicated to the cause. That could end up being very costly.
We’re midway through training camp and it doesn’t look good.
LT Nate Solder struggled mightily against the Washington Redskins defensive ends in joint practices and is facing competition for the role of protecting Brady’s blindside for the first time since his rookie season.
LG Logan Mankins—a rock in the interior—finally started to show signs of regression last season. He’s now 32 years old.
C Ryan Wendell was the weakest link on the offensive line last season. He needed a replacement then and has done nothing to change that.
RG Dan Connelly had a strong offseason. He won one of the Patriots offseason awards, which are distributed based on attendance and performance in the team’s offseason workout programs. Still, Connelly has always just gotten by on hard work and doesn’t have the talent to be a difference maker as a starting right guard.
RT Sebastian Vollmer is slowly making his way back from a broken leg, suffered late last October. The key word there is “slowly.” Vollmer is still a behemoth with loads of potential, but he hasn’t looked like himself thus far in camp.
So there are last year’s starters. A unit that ultimately failed down the stretch last January is looking even worse entering the 2014 season. And while they are facing competition across the board—with the exception of maybe Mankins—their potential replacements don’t look much better.
Marcus Cannon is a utility lineman, who can play any of the guard of tackle positions. He is an ideal fit for a backup role, as he can fill in anywhere (which he has done in the past), but he has yet to prove himself as a reliable starter in his three years with the team. He could end up earning himself a starting role somewhere this season, but that’s not going to turn the entire offensive line into the next great phalanx.
The only other “veterans” on the offensive line depth chart are three of last year’s undrafted free agents. Chris Barker, Braxston Cave and Josh Kline will have a decent shot at carving out a role, but these aren’t the guys you want protecting Tom Brady. And they aren’t the guys who will part the seas for the team’s talented young stable of running backs.
The unit’s best chance of a revival comes in the form of three rookie mid-round draft picks. Fourth-rounder Bryan Stork looked like the favorite to beat out Wendell for the starting center job early in camp. Then he suffered a lower leg injury and hasn’t been on the field since. Another fourth-rounder, Cameron Fleming, is in the mix at the tackle positions and sixth-rounder Jon Halapio is competing at guard, but neither of them have been truly impressive.
The Redskins’ entire defensive line won one-on-one battles last week in joint practices. Then they decisively won the five-on-five battle in the first preseason game. To the offensive line’s credit, the Redskins boast an above average unit on the other side of the ball. It will be interesting to see how the Pats fare this week against a below average unit for the Philadelphia Eagles. If it’s more of the same, the Patriots’ offense is in big trouble.
So that’s the good news. Are you ready for the bad news?
There is no reason to think this unit is going to get any better. Last season things could have been different. Whatever personnel was out on the field had the unwavering support of a man named Dante Scarnecchia. The long-time Patriots’ offensive line coach could seemingly take any old band of misfits and turn them into a serviceable unit. He retired following the 2013 season, and has been replaced by Dan DeGuglielmo.
Dan DeGuglielmo—the offensive line coach behind this:
That revamped defense better come as advertised.
Follow Tanner Howard at @TC_Howard
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