FOXBORO -- Between quarterback Tom Brady, receiver Wes Welker, linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, the Patriots are loaded with star power. It's a team that possesses Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers. But there's one Patriot who was out on the field more than any other this season, and he's never been to Hawaii.
That distinction goes to Patriots center Ryan Wendell, who started all 16 games this season, and not only led his team in playing time, but the entire NFL as well.
The first-year starter played 1,231 offensive snaps and 148 special teams plays for a total of 1,379 plays. The mark is a tribute to Wendell's durability and toughness, but he praised teammates and team staff when asked about his ability to stay on the field.
"It says a lot about the organization as a whole," Wendell said. "The guys around us, our athletic trainers head athletic trainer Jim Whalen and assistant athletic trainer Joe Van Allen, along with the strength training coaches, head strength and conditioning coach Herald Nash, assistant strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera, who spend a lot of time and effort trying to make sure we're healthy and out on the field as much as we can."
The Patriots had the NFL's most productive offense (both in terms of points and total yards) this season and set an NFL record for first downs, which led to a few of their offensive players being among the league leaders in playing time. Nate Solder led all of the NFL in offensive snaps (three more than Wendell). His 105 special teams snaps and 1,339 total plays put him second overall in the league.
"I think we all feed off each other," Solder said. "Wendell's one of those guys who's always working hard. He's always taking care of his body, I think that's a big part of the reason he's been able to do that."
Both Solder and Wendell are playing in roles that have increased significantly since last season. Solder, a rookie last year, is in his first season as New England's full-time starting left tackle. Wendell was thrust into a starting role when longtime Patriots center Dan Koppen was released, and Brian Waters did not return to the team during training camp, shifting Dan Connolly to guard.
However, both explained that there was no trick to their durability.
"I work hard, as we all do to take care of our bodies," Solder explained. "We all work hard to take care of our bodies. That's part of our job. Proper nutrition, proper sleep. Staying in shape. Working in the weight room. All those things contribute to that."
"I think you try to keep doing all the things that got you to the point that you got those opportunities," Wendell said, "and you just have to make sure to keep your priorities in order that when you have any extra time or free time that you focus on whatever thing will help you personally stay healthy."
Wendell's extra effort has given the Patriots consistency at the position where every offensive play gets its start. His impact has not gone unnoticed by his teammates, most notably the teammate who's on the receiving end of Wendell's snaps.
"Hes done a great job," Brady said of his center. "Hes really done a great job since he got here. He fought for his opportunity and once he got it this year, he really took advantage. Hes been healthy and durable, consistent. Playing center on our team is not easy. There are a lot of adjustments and calls that we have, both the communication I have with him and what he relays on to the rest of the offensive linemen. Hes done a great job. Hes a tough, hard-nosed football player that loves the game and loves to compete."
The NFL released playing time numbers for the first time this season, and FootballOutsiders.com compiled those numbers into a list here.