By Rich Levine
Standing Room Only
The most interesting question surrounding the Pats offensive line isnt really about the offensive line.
After all, the five guys protecting Brady are who they are: Logan Mankins is one of the best in the league. Sebastian Vollmer isnt far behind. Dan Koppens seen better days, but hes still reliable with a set of hands that Brady trusts (and yes, I felt as uncomfortable writing that last part as you felt reading it).
Is Brian Waters past his prime? Sure, but at 34, hes also made the Pro Bowl in two of the last three seasons, and in the one season he didnt (2009), he was named NFL Man of the Year. Plus, if you care about this sort of thing, Waters was No. 67 on the NFL Networks countdown of the best 100 players from last season. By comparison, Jerod Mayo was No. 62. (Mankins was No. 39, Wes Welker was No. 50, Darius Butler was No. 5,007.) I have no idea why an offensive lineman is wearing No. 54 for the Patriots. I have no idea why anyone is wearing No. 54 for the Patriots. But Im fairly optimistic about what Waters can do.
On Bradys blindside, for the eleventh straight (and probably final) season, is Matt Light a guy whos . . . well, Matt Light. At this point, you know what he brings to table and you fear what he lacks, but for any insecurities that have grown over these last few years, give him this: Bradys only truly been injured once during Lights decade-plus on the job, and that (aka Bernard Pollard) had nothing to do with Light. All things considered, hes kept Brady safe, and I think he can do it for one more year. More importantly, so does Belichick.
So there you have it. Now back to that interesting question from the top of the page, the one that doesnt necessarily have to do with the offensive line (but obviously still does or I wouldnt be writing about it):
How will the Pats be affected by the loss of Alge Crumpler?
Despite making only six catches, Big Alge (in this case, pronounced Alj) was an unsung hero in last seasons resurgence. Hes one of the best blocking tight ends in the game. So who will fill in?
We have to assume that the newly acquired Gronk (Dan) will assume some of that responsibility. But and I know Im not the first one to suggest this Id love to see the Pats mess around with Nate Solder in the Crumpler role.
On one hand, hes the left tackle of the future, so maybe messing around is a little careless. But on the other, couldnt you totally see Belichick trying to pull this off? First of all, Solders a converted tight end, so you know the fundamentals are there. Second, hes an absolute freak of an athlete. Nate was a three-sport athlete in high school, so you get some idea of his athletic ability there, Belichick said of Solder after the draft. And certainly when you watch him play, you watch him pull, you watch him run, you watch his athleticism, for a big guy, he moves well. Hes pretty light on his feet, and I think you see that all the way through.
Third, its not like the Pats will suffer from Solders inability to get downfield of Crumplers six catches last season, only two were for more than four yards.
Incorporating Solder into that role would not only provide the Pats with the perhaps the most devastating offense line in the game, it will also give the rookie Solder consistent reps (instead of merely in the scattered fill-in role), get him accustomed to the NFL schemes and adjusted to the real NFL game. That way, hes better prepared to take over next season and insure that the twilight of Tom Bradys career is spent racking up stats (and, of course, rings) and not pulling turf out of his nostrils.