We saw it coming when Matt Light retired, and we caught a glimpse of it in their first preseason game last week. The Patriots’ offensive line is the biggest concern in training camp so far, and the position battles likely will continue until New England opens at Tennessee to face the Titans Sept. 5. Who will be the five upfront protecting Tom Brady this year? Take a closer look at each of the candidates in this gallery.
If Brian Waters doesn’t show up to camp, here’s the offensive line the Patriots might use to protect Tom Brady.
LT Nate Solder
LG Logan Mankins
C Ryan Wendell
RG Dan Connolly
RT Sebastian Vollmer
The converted left tackle had a rough start in the team’s first preseason game against the Saints, but the Patriots look like they’ll trust him to protect Tom Brady’s blindside. Boston.com columnist Tony Massarotti wrote after the game that “it felt like Solder made more mistakes in the first quarter than Matt Light did all of last year.”
The four-time Pro Bowl left guard made an unexpected return to practice Sunday since offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL. Now removed from the physically unable to perform list, Mankins looks to get healthy enough to return for Week 1. So far, though, he’s only participated in individual drills.
The center controlled the middle against the Saints, not allowing any hurries or knockdowns. With right guard Brian Waters a no-show so far, Wendell seems to be the frontrunner to start at center.
The longtime Patriots center had a botched snap resulting in a fumble and loss of eight yards against the Saints. Koppen missed almost all of last season after fracturing his ankle in Week 1. He had started nearly all of the Patriots games at center for the previous five years.
Connolly gave up a hurry and a knockdown to Saints third-round draft pick Akiem Hicks, and another hurry. He figures to be in the starting lineup with right guard Brian Waters (at center) or without (at right guard). Connolly has been with New England since 2008, starting 24 regular season games at both guard positions and center in the last two years.
Vollmer (back) is on the physically unable to perform list and hasn’t participated in training camp yet as he continues his rehab. Vollmer, a 2009 second-round pick, played less than half of the team’s games last year after starting all 16 at right tackle in 2010.
Despite good statistics against the Saints, the right tackle was overpowered much of the game, according to Globe NFL writer Greg A. Bedard. Cannon, drafted in fifth fround by the Patriots in 2011, played in seven games as a rookie. If Vollmer can return, he’ll likely start over Cannon.
Thomas played left guard in 10 games — starting one — last season in his first year with the Patriots. His amount of playing time will depend on the health of Logan Mankins.
Waters hasn’t showed up for camp, and the Patriots won’t say anything about his absence. If he does show up at camp, he could figure into the starting line at right guard, which would move Dan Connolly to center and Ryan Wendell out.
The undrafted lineman didn’t see any action last year but is vying for more playing time in camp and preseason games.