Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 13, 2015 at 06:00am ET

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The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be plenty of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53 man roster and who is on the bubble.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring is a learning exercise and that the competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 88 players on board, 35 of these current members of the roster now, at a minimum will be cut.

We’ve already looked at the running backs, wide receivers and the tight ends. Next up is the Patriots offensive line. It entered 2014 with many questions, and entering this season there are still questions to be answered with the interior guard positions.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon

Starters Solder, Vollmer and Stork are all locks. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots try to lock up Solder to a long-term deal this year before the 27 year old hits free agency. The left tackle who the Patriots drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft has been durable, playing in 60 of 63 since arriving in Foxboro. Solder even went through cancer treatments last off-season without missing a beat. Solder has come under fire for struggling somewhat against speed rushers on the outside, but overall his body of work has been solid.

Vollmer is also solid at right tackle and the rookie Stork stepped in and played well at center. Last season’s right guard Ryan Wendell moved over from starting center and played better than expected after struggling in 2013. He may not be the long term solution there but with two rookies in the mix, he’s not going anywhere and will provide veteran presence.

The team was toying with the idea of moving last season’s draft selection Fleming to guard from tackle this season. We saw film of him working out and going thru the process of preparing to play a different position this season. Both he and Cannon can play guard or tackle, which gives them the added versatility that one needs to stick in the roster.

Next up are the near locks.

Near Locks: Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason, Josh Kline

The Patriots selected both Jackson and Mason in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Jackson with 111th pick, was scouted by former Pats OL coach Dante Scarnnechia who has a close relationship with Florida State OL coach Rick Trickett. The Patriots brought in Stork in 2014 and the former teammates should work well together again. Jackson should compete for starting reps right away.

Mason is a shorter (6’1), 300 pound road grader who was drafted with the 131st pick in the draft. Mason didn’t get a lot of pass blocking experience at Georgia Tech as the Yellow Jackets liked to pound the football against opponents. One area where Mason could be used early is when the Patriots go to their jumbo formation and bring in an extra tight end, something Fleming did last season. It would give Mason an opportunity to use his run-blocking skills to their potential.

One of the better case scenarios would be for both rookies to play very well and have each break the starting lineup. That may make Wendell or Kline expendable but they may not opt to part ways with them, keeping at least one as a veteran presence. Another possible scenario would be if the team brings in a veteran, they had Evan Mathis in for a visit, but I believe he ends up in Miami. Dan Connolly is still out there, but is reportedly leaning toward retirement. But if he were to come back, then Kline or possibly Wendell would maybe put on the bubble.

Kline however is another guy that has played well when called upon and will be a guy that they may want to keep around from a depth standpoint.

Next …the guys on the bubble

On the Bubble: Caylin Hauptman, Jordan Devey, Chris Barker, David Andrews, Kevin Hughes

Hauptman got a lot of reps during the spring, perhaps one can read the tea leaves into that, but with the pads coming on in training camp, that will be the test to see if he can perform against the big boys inside. Devey played early last season and struggled badly. Barker has been around on the practice squad, but will need a huge camp to stick. Andrews is listed as a center, with Stork holding down the fort, unless he can kick to guard, then he’s a long-shot, as is Hughes.

So the Patriots offensive line for the second year in a row has questions at the start of the season. They’re set at center and the two tackle positions but it will be at guard that the team needs to find some answers. Jackson is obviously the guy they want to step into one of those spots. Will Mason be ready for the other? That’s the big question. If he isn’t, then one of the veterans, either Wendell or Kline may be asked to step in. And we’ll be watching to see where Fleming is lining up.

The beginning of training camp should be fun to watch the big men; although bring the binoculars, they are usually the ones practicing at the far end of the practice fields so the one-on-one battles are more difficult to monitor. But the 7-7 and 11-11 should answer many of those questions. However, it may take some time for the team to find the right combination, much like 2014.

Stay tuned...;we’ll be down at training camp filing daily updates about the goings-on with the Pats as they begin the march to the 53 man roster.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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