Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Offensive line

Mike Petraglia
February 20, 2016 - 1:06 am

[caption id="attachment_106222" align="alignright" width="400"]Injuries to the likes of Sebastian Vollmer (76) affected the Patriots' offensive line all season. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports) Injuries to the likes of Sebastian Vollmer (76) affected the Patriots' offensive line all season. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)[/caption] With the Patriots done for the season, we've got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand and what figures to be the strengths and weaknesses for the team at that position going forward. We started our overview with the quarterbacks, secondary, the running backs, the linebackers and the wide receivers. Now we move on to the offensive line: Depth chart: LT Nate Solder, LG Josh Kline, C Bryan Stork, RG Tre' Jackson, RT Sebastian Vollmer, G Shaq Mason, G/C David Andrews, T Marcus Cannon, T Cameron Fleming, T LaAdrian Waddle, G Chris Barker. Overview: A breakdown is exactly what this group had in the second half of the 2015 season. The unit has already begun an overhaul from what was a tumultuous end to 2015. The line allowed four sacks of Tom Brady in the AFC championship and gave up a stunning 17 quarterback hits to the Denver defense. That combined with the pressure Brady felt throughout the second half of the season cost Dave DeGuglielmo his job and sparked the return from retirement of offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia. In defense of DeGuglielmo, the entire starting group was never on the field at once in 2015, as starting left tackle Nate Solder went down in Week 5 against Dallas with an arm injury. Starting center Bryan Stork didn't debut in the regular season until Week 9 against the Redskins. Still, the line was one of the bright spots in the first half of the season, as the Patriots were going about their offensive routine without seemingly missing a beat, as first-year players David Andrews (filling in for Stork at center) and guards Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson did their jobs at a very solid level. Age and health are two major concerns at the tackle spots. Solder has been remarkably resilient in dealing with testicular cancer and now a torn biceps. Vollmer, who turns 32 in July, has dealt with a bad back, concussions and a broken leg. He played in the playoffs with a bad ankle sprain when Joey Iosefa fell on it during the loss to the Jets in Week 16. An re-dedication to the running game would start with an effort upfront to win one-on-one battles, something they could not do in the second half of the season on a regular basis and certainly failed at in the AFC championship. As we noted in the overview of the running backs, a big key to the Patriots' running game in 2016 will be the continued development of rookie guards Shaq Mason (drafted out of Georgia Tech for his run-blocking skill) and Tre' Jackson. If those two, along with third-year center Bryan Stork mature in the middle of the line, the Patriots' running game could pick up where it left off when Lewis was injured. The Patriots most certainly figure to address the top-tier depth of the offensive line through free agency (like Jacksonville's Stefen Wisniewski) and/or in the higher rounds of the draft. The Patriots need to re-establish the toughness they showed after Week 4 in 2014, when they began winning one-on-one battles on a regular basis. Who will stay? The easy ones are Solder (signed through 2017), Stork, Mason, Jackson, Andrews, Kline (signed through 2017). The question marks are Vollmer (signed through 2016) and Cannon (signed through 2016), Waddle, Barker Who will go? Fleming. By the numbers: 12 -- The Patriots had twelve different starting offensive line combinations in 18 games this season, thanks to the injuries that began with Bryan Stork's neck/concussion at the beginning of the season and carried through with Solder's biceps, Vollmer's ankle and the knees of Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason.