A recent report from Comcast Sports Net says that New England Patriots tight end Daniel Fells and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be removed from the PUP list and return to the practice field later this week.
This raises a few questions as to who will be starting along the offensive line come Week 1 of the regular season, and assuming guard Brian Waters will not report, the answer seems to be a bit clearer now.
Vollmer should be able to come back this week and immediately step in at right tackle.
He has a lot of talent, and if not for all the injuries he has had throughout the first three years of his NFL career he may have been to more than just one Pro Bowl.
If Vollmer can stay healthy this season, he will be a huge boost to this offensive line.
The left side of the line looks pretty much set. Second-year tackle Nate Solder will be taking over for former left tackle Matt Light and should be able to hold up well, even if he has had a bit of trouble protecting the edge in camp.
It may take some time, but Solder has the talent to become one of the best tackles in the entire league. Logan Mankins will resume playing at the left guard position; a position he has flourished in throughout his career.
Even though he is coming off of ACL surgery, Mankins is one of the toughest players in the entire NFL (as noted when it was recently revealed that Mankins played most of last season with the torn ACL) and should still be a great guard.
The real questions come at the center and right guard position. If Waters does in fact return to the team then he will most likely get the nod at right guard, but that is looking less and less likely with each passing day.
Right now, I believe Dan Connolly is the front-runner for the right guard position. Connolly was an excellent backup during the 2010 season, and he filled in nicely at center for nearly all of last year when Dan Koppen went down with a season-ending ankle injury during Week 1.
He is versatile, and the team rewarded him for his solid play this offseason by locking him up for the next three years. I do have my reservations about Connolly, however. He has been beaten in one-on-one drills multiple times this training camp, and was blown off his feet twice in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints.
He will need to become more consistent if he wants to become a full-time starter for this team year in and year out, but right now he seems like the guy for the job at right guard.
Center is the biggest question mark. It would seem like Koppen would be a lock to resume the role he has played for many years, but he has not been the same player he was pre-ankle injury during training camp. He has been very up and down, and frankly has been outplayed by Ryan Wendell.
Even though Wendell is not a household name, he has been productive throughout his Patriots career. He has been a solid backup for the team, and filled in nicely during the 2010 season, during which he played 15 games and started two. He has had a pretty good camp and looks to be the favorite to start at center.
If the Patriots' offensive line ends up being Solder, Mankins, Wendell, Connolly, Vollmer, then that would be a decent first group. The problem with the Patriots' line is depth.
Connolly and Vollmer have had injuries over the last two seasons, and Wendell is unproven as a starter. If this unit does not hold up it could be difficult to find suitable replacements, which in turn could hinder the Patriots' offense in 2012.