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Injury clouds Vollmer’s role

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By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / September 17, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - There’s a fine line between desire and reality, which is where Sebastian Vollmer finds himself these days. Wanting one thing, yet knowing he might not get it, at least not yet.

Vollmer, who started all 17 games for the Patriots last season at right tackle, missed Monday night’s season opener in Miami because of a back injury. He returned to practice this week, albeit in a limited capacity, and is hopeful he can play in tomorrow’s home opener against the Chargers.

“It feels good getting back out there, doing what I can,’’ Vollmer said before yesterday’s practice in shorts and light pads. “We’ll have to wait and see. So far I’m limited in practice. I’m doing what I can to try to get better, and when it feels right it feels right.’’

He might not know if he’ll play - the Patriots, players included, are notorious for sidestepping any injury talk or giving many details - but Vollmer certainly made it clear what would happen if the decision was his.

The quickest answer Vollmer gave during a brief interview came when he was asked if he’s eager to get back on the field.

“Yeah,’’ he said.

That doesn’t mean he will, at least against the Chargers.

“That’s up for the medical staff to determine,’’ Vollmer said. “We’ll have to wait and see.’’

In Miami, Vollmer’s starting spot went to rookie Nate Solder, but with center Dan Koppen suffering a leg injury, getting Vollmer back would dramatically help the offensive line depth. The 27-year-old, drafted in the second round by the Patriots in 2009, was named a second-team All-Pro last year.

He’s also been durable. It’s the first time Vollmer had missed a game because of injury since joining the Patriots, but he did undergo back surgery during his sophomore season at the University of Houston. He declined to say if the injuries are related, or even in the general vicinity.

Vollmer knows, though, that injuries are part of the career he’s chosen, and returning sooner than he should only brings longer-term health issues into play. Vollmer said even a depleted line won’t interfere with his rehabilitation process.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s four guys left, you can’t rush it,’’ Vollmer said. “I think everybody does everything they can to get back on the field as soon as possible. Other factors probably play a certain role, but you can’t speed it up if it’s not there.

“You never want to see anybody get hurt, on our team or on the opponent’s team. Obviously [Koppen] has been here for a long time and played some good ball. It’s tough, but the other Dan [Connolly] stepped in and played good, and that’s what it’s all about.’’

Vollmer, perhaps coincidentally, received his first start with the Patriots in place of an injured Matt Light two seasons ago. Solder, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, saw his first start come in the first week of his rookie season, holding his own against Miami’s Cameron Wake and helping the Patriots roll to a franchise-record 622 yards.

He might start tomorrow, he might not, depending on Vollmer. Either way, Solder’s approach is the same.

“Every week I just prepare as if I’m going to play, so it doesn’t matter who’s playing, who’s not playing,’’ Solder said. “I’m just preparing to play my best game.’’

How would he assess his debut?

“I think there were a lot of good lessons. I think it was a building process. I think this whole thing is a building process, and now it’s just changing those things and focusing on San Diego,’’ Solder said. “It’s taking those same lessons that I learned against a great pass rusher [Wake] and applying them to San Diego.’’

Coach Bill Belichick didn’t offer much on the prospect of Vollmer’s availability, but did acknowledge a tackle rotation of some sort once Vollmer’s ready to play. With Light, Vollmer, and Solder, assuming all are healthy, he has two positions and three solid options.

“[Vollmer is] practicing. We’ll put out the injury report based on how things go,’’ Belichick said. “I would cycle three of those guys in. Light, Solder, and Vollmer, I think they’d all play.’’

With one regular starter (Koppen) definitely out, and another one (Vollmer) possibly out, a patchwork line might be asked to go against a Chargers defense that gave up just 187 yards in a 24-17 home win over Minnesota. Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb completed seven passes for 39 yards - for the entire game. That’s a decent drive for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Vollmer’s presence, if his back allows, would certainly help.

“I think every football player has nicks somewhere, but that’s what the treatment and the training room is for,’’ Vollmer said. “You just do what you can to get out there.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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