Patriots' T Sebastian Vollmer and G Dan Connolly both returned to practice on Thursday. Although both were limited, this is great news for an offensive line that has been plagued by injuries throughout the season. Vollmer missed the Thanksgiving game against the Jets and Connolly had to come out in the fourth quarter of the game and did not return.
Linemen Logan Mankins and Markus Zusevics both missed practice again on Thursday. Mankins, Vollmer, and Connolly have all already missed time this year due to injury. Despite this, the Patriots' offensive line has played exceedingly well after a shaky start. Brady has been sacked only three times since week 6 and a total of 15 times on the season, which is the second lowest total in the NFL. Additionally, the Patriots rank sixth in the league in rushing.
"It's really encouraging when you can have enough depth at any position to go in there and continue to play the way you want to play," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels concerning the offensive line. "I think we all have great confidence that the offensive line can do that. "
If Vollmer and Connolly's injuries continue to nag them, the Patriots may have some reason for concern going into the game against Miami this weekend. The Dolphins have a very good pass rush lead by AFC defensive player of the month for October, Cameron Wake, who has 9.5 sacks through 11 games this season. With Rob Gronkowski out, the Patriots have also lost their best non-offensive line blocker. Although Dante Scarnecchia, the 26 year Patriots veteran offensive line coach, has proven that he can turn makeshift units into excellent ones, it would not be surprising to see Brady under some added pressure this week. That being said, the line's success this season has come while starting five different sets of offensive linemen and eight different players.
Also absent from practice was DE Chandler Jones who is unlikely to play on Sunday. the Patriots are the superior team, but with the trenches hurting on both sides of the ball, the Miami Dolphins, who often seem to give the Patriots fits in their annual trip to South Beach, could once challenge New England's bid to run the table in the AFC east. On the defensive side the Patriots are missing two of their best pass rushers, Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham, which puts a lot of pressure on the improving but still questionable secondary to make plays and sustain coverages . The Dolphins may be able to find some holes in the Patriots' defense and put up substantial points.
The offense, which is on pace to break the all time NFL scoring record, should have no problem keeping up. However, if Connolly and Vollmer are still nagged by injuries, with Mankins and Gronkowski out, Brady could find himself under a bit more pressure than usual, a situation, which is seemingly the only thing that makes the future hall of fame quarterback look even remotely human.
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