When Logan Mankins was dealt to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick, the questions began almost immediately: Who would take New England's vacant spot at left guard?
Early on there were plenty, myself included, who believed Josh Kline might be the best fit. He started one game at left guard last year -- Mankins had bounced out to left tackle to replace Nate Solder, who was injured -- and performed admirably. Kline, by all accounts, had a productive offseason and he played well in his opportunities in training camp. He is a good athlete, and he appears to be at his best in the running game.
All in all, Kline wouldn't have been a bad fill-in for the recently-departed All-Pro.
Last night Kline started against the Giants and played every offensive snap -- a good opportunity to get him more experience at the position. His performance, however, wasn't one that screamed he should have a stranglehold on the left-guard opening. He was beaten on a couple of occasions in pass protection, and the entire line struggled to open up lanes in the running game.
"There were a lot of good things out there and there were some things that at times weren’t so good, need to be corrected, need to be improved," Belichick said when asked about Kline. "Overall offensively we had not very many problems in pass protection, a couple, but overall not very many. We didn’t run the ball as well as we would like, or need to. That was a combination of things. Sometimes it was multiple people or a combination block or the back and the offensive linemen with the read or whatever it happened to be. We just didn’t have as much consistency there as what we need. But overall the pass blocking for the most part wasn’t really a big issue other than a handful of plays. When you talk about the whole line, you’re probably going to have similar comments on all of them: a lack of consistency in the running game, pass blocking [was] not perfect but certainly manageable."
The line's rocky evening wasn't all on Kline, but he wasn't without fault.
Meanwhile another perceived candidate for Mankins' job, Marcus Cannon, remained on the bench with presumed Patriots starters like Dan Connolly and Nate Solder. Cannon has played mostly tackle in his professional career -- he started six games at right tackle last season when Sebastian Vollmer was out with a season-ending leg injury -- but Belichick reminded those on a conference call Friday that the fourth-year player out of Texas Christian University can play guard as well.
"He’s obviously got great size and strength and he’s very athletic for his size," Belichick said. "He moves well. He has excellent feet, balance. He’s a powerful player in the running game . . . He, I think, physically can play any position on the line. He probably could play center, too. But definitely could play guard or tackle. It’s just a question of refining his skills at one position. Of course, the majority of his plays have come at tackle. He did play guard last year and he played guard this year."
Might that "one position" be left guard? Could be. The Patriots could also shift Connolly, who has started at right guard the last two seasons, to left guard and slide Cannon into the guard spot on the right side.
Either way, considering how Belichick spoke of Cannon on Friday, it would seem he is still very much a possibility to be in the starting lineup and protecting Tom Brady in Week 1 down in Miami.