The New England Patriots open training camp on July 24. To get you ready, we will go through the roster position by position, highlighting the story lines, battles, and key players. We continue with the offensive tackle position.
Sebastian Vollmer is rehabbing from a season-ending injury (leg), but he and Nate Solder are firmly entrenched as the starters at right and left tackle, respectively. Fourth-year veteran Marcus Cannon has been the top back-up since 2012, earning seven starts in that span, but the Patriots added to their depth this offseason with the selection of Stanford tackle Cameron Fleming in the fourth round.
Nate Solder: The Patriots exercised the fifth-year option in Solder's rookie contract, meaning he will play for the team through the 2015 season. The 6-foot-8, 320-pounder has been an anchor at left tackle for the past three seasons since taking over in 2012, using his 35.5-inch arms to reroute pass-rushers and keep them away from his pads.
Sebastian Vollmer: Vollmer was brought back last offseason on a four-year, $16.75 million deal, but a leg injury brought the first of those four seasons to an early end. A near mirror image of Solder at 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds, Vollmer is surprisingly light on his feet for a man of his size and is a stout run-blocker as well.
Marcus Cannon: The Patriots have developed an affinity for big offensive linemen, and Cannon adds another massive frame at 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds. It was originally believed he would have to move to guard, as he lacks the foot quickness to mirror agile pass-rushers, but his versatility has made him an important asset to the Patriots offensive line. He filled in at tackle when Vollmer suffered his injury, but he has also played guard at times, including most of New England's Week 6 win over the New Orleans Saints.
Cameron Fleming: Stanford has been a hotbed for offensive line talent in recent years, with David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, David Yankey, and Cameron Fleming all drafted into the NFL over the past three years. Fleming was exclusively a right tackle for the Cardinal, starting 39 games in his career and showing his abilities as a road-grater in the running game. He is not considered a fluid enough athlete and natural enough pass-protector to line up on the left side.
Chris Martin: Martin is not regarded as a great athlete, but instead a better technician who requires some polish to get the most out of his game. According to NFL.com's Nolan Nawrocki, Martin lacks both "the length and agility ideally suited to handle the edges and the core strength desired on the inside."
Jordan Devey: The Patriots love their versatile offensive linemen, and Devey played every position except center for Memphis, according to Tony Pauline of Draft Insider.
1. Nate Solder
2. Sebastian Vollmer
3. Marcus Cannon
4. Cameron Fleming
5. Jordan Devey *
6. Chris Martin *
* = projected cut
Vollmer and Solder are roster locks, and Cannon is about as close as it gets to a roster lock due to his versatility to play both guard and tackle. Fleming is likely to compete with Cannon for the top back-up spot, but the rookie is not likely to see as much time as the veteran in this instance. The Patriots could look to get both Devey and Martin onto the practice squad to give them time to develop some functional strength and polish their technique.