O-Line demonstrates depth

O-Line demonstrates depth
December 24, 2011, 11:55 pm

FOXBORO -- Just 90 minutes before the opening kickoff of Saturday's game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, Patriots players were informed that offensive tackle Matt Light wouldn't be playing because of an ankle injury.

So the first thing Bill Belichick did was move guard Logan Mankins to the outside, into Light's usual role as left tackle. The next thing Belichick did was inform Donald Thomas that he'd be making his first start since 2009, in Mankins' position.

Turns out, Mankins didn't last long, leaving the game -- and never returning -- late in the first quarter with a knee injury. That forced New England's hand to move Nate Solder to left tackle, and place Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

"Matt's ankle was, he just wasnt able to push off on it, so we were scrambling around there," said Belichick after the game. "And then Logan played a few plays and then he went out, so we had to take what was left."

As you would expect, the game of musical chairs on the Patriots' offensive line wasn't a perfect transition. Brady was sacked twice and knocked down three times in the first quarter.
Thomas described the first half as "chaotic."

"I was just told before the game to be ready to go," said Thomas after the game. "And then we went out there and it's game time, and you're up. That was it, basically. I don't know what's going on with anybody. I was just told to be ready to go when I got in this morning. And I just had to roll with it."

The Patriots' offensive line struggled in the first half, just like the rest of the team, and Miami went into halftime with a 17-0 lead.

Tom Brady was pressured at times in the second half, but clearly had more time to make plays, thanks to the improvements made on the offensive line.

Those improvements came in a three-step process. First, get the communication in order. Second, trust each other to do your own job. Third, trust the system.

The new-look offensive line did all three in the second half, and it helped New England's offense surge to a 27-24 win, securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

"To lose Matt Light an hour-and-a-half before the game, and then to lose Logan Mankins the first or second series of the game, a lot of guys really stepped in, played hard, and played for 60 minutes," said Brady after the win. "That's what it took today.

"They're tough, they're very well coached," added Brady on his offensive line. "They have a lot of pride and work extremely hard. So anytime you have those qualities as players or as a group, you learn to fight through adversity, and they've done that all year."

They did it with different personnel in different positions on Saturday. And they did it because, in New England, and especially under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, everybody was prepared as if they were going to play. And once they got the communication down, it was all about trust.

"If you've been around here this year, the one thing that you should know -- and again, it goes to the depth of this football team, and the professionalism of this football team -- is, you never know when it's your turn," said Patriots veteran offensive lineman Brian Waters. "If you're dressed, you prepare all week. You've got to be prepared to play, no matter what position you're in, no matter where you are on the depth chart.

"If you put those pads on, you've got to respect that, at some point of the season, you're going to be asked to play. You just never know when it is. So you've always got to be prepared.

"Everybody on this offensive line really cares about the other guys, because that's the way they prepare," added Waters. "At some point, you're going to be called on. If you're not prepared, and you're not ready to go, that means you don't care about the other guys next to you. And on the flip side, you've got to trust that guy. And that's what happened in the second half."