NATE SOLDER LEADS O-LINE

The left tackle is the corner­stone of a veteran group.

Metro USA (Boston) - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES TOSCANO @Jim­my_Toscano sports@metro.us

When it comes to of­fen­sive lines, it’s not al­ways about experience.

Take the Pa­tri­ots of­fen­sive line, for ex­am­ple.

In last year’s reg­u­lar sea­son, the Pa­tri­ots ranked 28th in the NFL in experience, which is based on the com­bined ca­reer starts for the two guards, two tack­les, and cen­ter on the of­fen­sive line with the most starts in the cur­rent sea­son.

The num­ber of starts for those play­ers on the Pa­tri­ots was 181. The team that ranked first was the At­lanta Fal­cons, with 481.

To com­pare the two teams’ of­fen­sive lines a bit more, the Pa­tri­ots al­lowed 24 sacks and 97 quar­ter­back hits. The Fal­cons al­lowed 37 sacks and 106 QB hits.

The Fal­cons did av­er­age more yards per carry, how­ever, 4.6 to 3.9.

So what does seem to mat­ter most on an of­fen­sive line? One could ar­gue con­ti­nu­ity.

Left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, cen­ter David An­drews, right guard Shaq Ma­son and right tackle Mar­cus Can­non started 14 of the Pa­tri­ots’ 16 reg­u­lar sea­son games last sea­son.

If you recall the sea­son prior to that, the line was dec­i­mated, and it all came to a head against the Den­ver Bron­cos in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game, when Tom Brady could barely find time to drop back before he was hit.

But that wasn’t the case last sea­son, as the Pa­tri­ots re­ally hit their stride as the sea­son went along.

Though the Pa­tri­ots were lucky to have their core start­ing line for most of the sea­son, they also re­lied on some depth at cer­tain points. Ted Kar­ras and Cameron Flem­ming were two play­ers who filled in oc­ca­sion­ally.

“Ted played quite a bit for us early in the year,” Bill Belichick said. “Cam started at left tackle for us in Ari­zona. So, early in the year, ac­tu­ally, we used more than just those five guys. So, you never know. Ted has played guard and cen­ter for us – pri­mar­ily guard, but played cen­ter. . . . On the of­fen­sive line, you’re one play away from not hav­ing the con­ti­nu­ity of those five guys, so we have to pre­pare for that.”

The good news for the Pa­tri­ots is that the five starters from last year are all on this year’s ros­ter, too. And let’s not for­get the help they’ll get from the tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen.

THE FA­VORITES

LT Nate Solder LG Joe Thuney C David An­drews RG Shaq Ma­son RT Mar­cus Can­non RG Ted Kar­ras LT Tony Gar­cia

Solder will re­main the Pats most im­por­tant of­fen­sive line­man, pro­tect­ing Brady’s blind side. He’s also seen as their best of­fen­sive line­man af­ter a nice bounce-back 2016 sea­son com­ing off an injury-short­ened 2015.

Con­sider Can­non one of the pleas­ant sur­prises on the team. Af­ter a rel­a­tively un­der­whelm­ing be­gin­ning to his ca­reer, Can­non turned it around the last two sea­sons and inked a five-year, $32.5 mil­lion extension last November.

Thuney, An­drews, and Ma­son have made im­me­di­ate im­pacts in their young ca­reers and the ex­pec­ta­tion is that they’ll hold onto their roles.

THE REST

LT LaA­drian Wad­dle RT Cam Flem­ing LG Jamil Dou­glas C James Fer­entz RG Ja­son King RT Conor McDer­mott RT Cole Cros­ton LT Max Rich LT An­drew Jelks

GETTY IMAGES

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots left tackle Nate Solder is the corner­stone of an of­fen­sive line that is tasked with pro­tect­ing one of the great­est quar­ter­backs in NFL his­tory.

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