FOXBOROUGH - For a man whose job is to yell out instructions to his teammates on the offensive line, Ryan Wendell is generally a man of few words off the field.
The 27-year old became a starter for the first time last season after Brian Waters' disappearing act forced the Patriots to shuffle the offensive line. Dan Connolly, who was the presumed starter at center heading into 2012, was bumped to right guard with Waters gone, and career reserve Wendell became the top center.
Wendell had essentially been groomed for the job since being signed by New England as an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State in 2008, and played very well when he got his chance -- the football metrics website ProFootballFocus graded Wendell as the fourth-best center in the league last season.
Asked if he's approaching this season any differently, Wendell said simply, "I’ve tried to do the same things that I’ve always done, which is go out there, listen to the coaching, try to get better every day."
He acknowledged that there are "several" things he's focused on improving for 2013, though he won't offer any specifics. Allowing quarterback hurries could be one area, as he gave up 18 on the season.
"There's always room for improvement," Wendell said. "Nobody's pitched a perfect game in football."
If the first handful of practices are an indication, Wendell could have a different face to his right when the season starts: 2011 fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon has been taking the reps at right guard with Wendell, Nate Solder, Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. Connolly did undergo shoulder surgery in the offseason.
"So far so good," Wendell said of working with Cannon. "I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys that are coming in, you know, even the new guys. Tyronne Green stepped up today and played a little in there, Will Svitek has played some at guard. You know how it is, we always got moving parts in there trying to get as much flexibility as we can, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys playing around me."