Saturday, June 7, 2014

Patriots O-line still working to get back to 100 percent


As OTAs hit the halfway point for the New England Patriots, there have been some sizeable absences thus far among the masses. About 1,000 combined pounds worth, to be precise.

Finishing up Day 6 of the team’s 10-day workout schedule, three big bodies have yet to enter into full-speed team activities – starting left tackle Nate Solder, starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and rookie fourth-rounder Cameron Fleming.

According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, Vollmer has practiced but not been able to move into 11-on-11 drills, while Solder has been with the rehabilitation crowd. Fleming, though healthy, is still waiting for Stanford’s graduation to take place before he can participate.

“It’s still a work in progress,” starting left guard Logan Mankins told Reiss, as Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey have filled in for Solder and Vollmer, respectively. “We still have a lot of mistakes happening now but that’s expected this time of year. We don’t want to do that but it still happens.

“We’re working to get by that and make sure everyone is ready to go for training camp, then it’s who stays healthy and who plays the best.”

Whether you call it an issue or an opportunity at this early point of the season, the fact remains that a good chunk of the team’s starting offensive line has yet to fully participate, which means days lost working to gel as a unit.

It’s not like the five lineman (including Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell) are complete strangers, far from it. The group has consistently kept would-be tacklers out of arm’s reach of Tom Brady the past few years, allowing an average of only 32 sacks since 2011, that even after an off year in terms of protection in 2013.

There’s still work to be done, however. New England’s sack numbers allowed last year (40) were the second-highest they’ve been in 10 years, and the most Brady has taken since 2001. Two more draft picks -- along with Fleming -- will try to aid the starting crew and second-stringers in cutting down on those instances. That goes double for the sacks that have occurred on third down, where a bulk of the issues have taken place the past couple of years.

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