FOXBOROUGH — Dan Connolly has started at left guard, center, and most recently, right guard for the Patriots.
In 2012, he started 16 games at right guard, including both postseason tilts. Just a year prior, he started at center for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. And in 2010, he started his first seven games at left guard, filling in for Logan Mankins during his contract squabble, before shifting to right guard and starting six more games.
This year, Connolly doesn’t have a job locked up.
Having the starting offensive line back was certainly tabbed as one of the team’s strengths coming into the 2013 season, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots aren’t trying to improve. In two training camp practices, it’s clear the 30-year-old interior lineman is in competition with Marcus Cannon, who has shifted from tackle to guard in the offseason. Cannon has taken a majority of the snaps with the team’s first group, including Nate Solder, Mankins, Ryan Wendell, and Sebastian Vollmer.
Connolly understands what’s at stake. But he still expresses the confidence of a man who has fought for and won every job he’s gotten in the NFL as an undrafted player out of Southwest Missouri State.
“Well it’s the start of training camp, it’s a new season,” he said. “And we’re starting from scratch like we do every year. I’ve got to perform like I always would. And I’m working just to keep my position. So that’s my goal.”
The pressure, Connolly said, is not more or less than it has been any other year.
“No, just like every year,” he said. “I just want to build on last year and get better and better. So every day I come out here, if I can improve on something, then I’m moving in the right direction.”
His contract might not be playing in his favor. Connolly is set to make $2.25 million in base salary this season, the second year of a three-year deal worth $9.75 million. Cannon, the Patriots’ fifth-round draft pick in 2011, is in the third year of his rookie contract (4 years, $2.4 million). His base salary for 2013 is $587,562.
Neither are oblivious of the dynamic. Both are fighting for their jobs.
“I worked pretty hard this offseason,” Cannon said. “And you know, right now, where I’m at, I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team. Wherever they think I fit in, wherever they think I can help, whatever they think I can do, that’s what I’m going to do to help.”
Cannon doesn’t think he has a position locked up either, let alone a spot on the 53-man roster.
“Every year you’ve got to make it. You gotta make the team every year and that’s how I feel. I’m just trying to get on this team. Trying to get on the team [and] trying to play.”
For Cannon, much like Connolly, his versatility is a boon to the team. And while Connolly’s versatility has helped in the past (he still works on snapping the ball), it’s no guarantee of anything now.
“It’s like every year, we want to have as many guys as we can and as much versatility as we can, working guys in different positions,” Connolly said. “The more we can get guys to move around on the line, the better off we’ll be in the end.”