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Mankins unlikely to play

Patriots lineman has sprained MCL

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 28, 2011
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FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots will very likely be without Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins for their regular-season finale against the Bills Sunday. League sources confirmed that he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee against the Dolphins in last Saturday’s win.

The hope is that Mankins will be healthy enough to play in the Patriots’ first playoff game, which will be Jan. 14 or 15.

This will be the first time in his career Mankins has missed a game because of injury; he sat out the first seven games of last season in a contract disagreement.

He has missed just one practice in seven years - that earlier this season when an illness forced him to the sideline for a day.

Mankins was injured late in the first quarter when he took a helmet to the knee. The veteran was making his first career start at left tackle after Matt Light had an ankle injury flare up before the game and wasn’t able to play.

Mankins is the fourth Patriot to suffer a sprained MCL this season, joining Jerod Mayo, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Spikes. Mayo and Hernandez each missed two games (Mayo also had the bye week to rest up), while Spikes has missed seven.

It is very likely that the fact that the Patriots require their offensive linemen to wear knee braces prevented the injury from being more serious.

“He’s a tough guy,’’ said Light, “a guy who’s never missed a practice or a game or had any of those kind of issues, so when you see that happen, it’s always tough to watch, but I’m sure the cowboy will ride again. He’ll be good.’’

Light said Mankins was in the meeting rooms yesterday as the Patriots reconvened after getting a two-day break for Christmas and he was “doing good.’’

Without Light and Mankins, Donald Thomas started at left guard, and Nate Solder swung from right tackle to left, with fellow rookie Marcus Cannon at right tackle. If Light can play, Solder will go back to right tackle, though Thomas may stay at left guard and make his second start with New England.

“Those guys all fought hard,’’ Light said. “We’ve got a lot of things we need to correct, but those guys did a great job out there, and of course guys stepping up and playing positions they hadn’t practiced and going through plays they hadn’t maybe run at all. It’s not an easy task.’’

Thomas, 26, is in his fourth NFL season; in his second, with Miami, he played in all 16 games, starting 12. But he was cut by the Dolphins out of training camp last year, and was picked up by the Lions a couple of months later.

The Patriots faced Thomas in the preseason this year, and after he was cut by Detroit, he was signed by New England.

After seeing extended playing time Saturday for the first time in two years as a surprise starter, Thomas said there were improvements to be made.

“I feel like I could have played a lot better than I did; I’m real hard on myself about that,’’ he said. “I’m not as happy as I was after the game after watching it today, so there’s always room for improvement - some technique things I still have to work on, and work the kinks out and get more comfortable with.’’

He did not want to attribute what he believed to be subpar play to rust.

Though he said he didn’t know whether he’ll be starting Sunday, Thomas said, “My preparation even has to go up at a higher level and pay more attention to detail for this upcoming week if I’m going to be in there.’’

It has been an interesting season for Thomas. After dressing for four early games, he was released Nov. 21 after being inactive for three straight games. But he was brought back just days later and has played a role in each of the five games since.

Before last weekend, Thomas’s role had mostly been as a goal-line fullback; with him expected to play guard this week, the Patriots yesterday signed fullback Lousaka Polite, who was with the Dolphins from 2008 through training camp this year.

Polite could also help with pass protection, something Patriots running backs had problems with against Miami, particularly in the first half.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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