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Patriots Battle in the Offensive Interior Line

While the Patriots try to field the best offensive line, it's clear that there's still room for improvement.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Between 2009 and 2013, the Patriots have held between eight to ten offensive linemen on their active roster during the regular season. In the past, New England was fortunate enough to field a high enough grade of talent that the back-ups on the roster were viable solutions in case of injury.

This year looks to be different.

While the tackle positions are fairly solidified, with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer as the starters and Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming as the top back-ups, the interior line is more murky.

Logan Mankins is the starter at left guard and he's looked much better this preseason than he did last year. That's as far as we go.

We've listed five players above and with rookie 4th round pick Bryan Stork a roster lock, six positions on the line are full without listing a starting center and right guard. That means the Patriots could sign between two and four more players to flush out the position group.

The top candidates are incumbents RG/C Dan Connolly and C Ryan Wendell, as well as sophomores G Josh Kline and G/T Jordan Devey. In the background, players like Chris Barker, Braxston Cave, and Jon Halapio are fighting for practice squad positions.

Against the Panthers, Connolly and Wendell operated as the top unit, with Wendell at center and Connolly filling in the guard spot- the same as last season. While the team was hoping they could improve upon last year's offensive line, it seems the returning starters still present the best option.

Kline holds his own and could be a top starting option, although the team has curiously held him away from the starters, even though he fared well when he started in a pinch last season. Devey, on the other hand, has played the majority of the starting snaps this preseason and has looked greatly overwhelmed.

The optimal offensive line still stands as Solder - Mankins - Connolly - Cannon - Vollmer, with Fleming the back-up tackle, Kline the back-up guard, and Stork the back-up center. However, it's clear that the team doesn't value Cannon as a guard, instead playing him solely at back-up tackle.

Additionally, it's worth noting that if Connolly wins the starting center role, there will be no space on the roster for Wendell.

The Patriots have one more game to determine the starting offensive line and, at this point, it's highly unlikely they risk fielding a weaker offensive line for the sake of cap space. The team should continue to move forward with last season's starters.