|National Football League|
New England offensive line has tough act to follow
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) There was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the New England Patriots offensive line before the season began.
Familiar faces were gone. Others were injured. Youth was taking over.
After a season-opening win over Tennessee last week, one thing is now certain. The New England line sure can block.
Amid questions and concern, the line spearheaded an explosive rushing attack, paving the way for Stevan Ridley and the rest of the Patriots running backs to rack up 162 yards on 35 carries.
Not to mention quarterback Tom Brady was hit just four times, including one sack.
"The guys that were in there last weekend competed extremely hard for the entire game. I thought they performed great," Brady said. "I had a lot of time back there to make my reads and make my throws. Communication was great, especially playing on the road in your first game.
"I have a ton of confidence in those guys. I always have."
Ridley likely does now, too. The second-year running back had career highs of 21 carries and 125 yards and also scored a touchdown, igniting the Patriots' best rushing performance since totaling 183 yards in a win over Oakland on Oct. 2, 2011. New England's offensive line now hopes to carry the momentum into Sunday's home opener against the Cardinals and their blitz-heavy pass rush, led by three-time Pro Bowl tackle Darnell Dockett.
"Every yard we get this week is going to be really earned," left guard Logan Mankins said. "It's going to be a tough challenge."
It may be more difficult than usual.
Right guard Dan Connelly left Sunday's game with a head injury and did not practice Wednesday. He returned to the practice field for limited participation on Thursday and his status for Sunday's game is up in the air. If Connelly can't play, Donald Thomas may fill in, which is nothing new to the fifth-year guard.
"With my situation, just starting to play center and getting used to that and being able to fill in where I can in the interior line, you just never know what can happen each week. You've got to be ready to go," he said. "I think we all understand that and we all know we can play multiple positions."
Perhaps the biggest challenge, though, may be trying to contain the 31-year-old Dockett, who had five tackles in the Arizona's Week 1 win over Seattle.
"He's probably one of the top defensive tackles in the league," Thomas said. "He's a leader out there, I think, for their D-line and he's gets those guys going. He's been playing for a long time and he's a good player. You've got to be able to match up with him and try to control him and not let him get going."
With a 6-foot-4, 290-pound frame, Dockett boasts the strength and speed to wreak havoc in New England's backfield.
"He's fast, he can move, he's strong," Thomas said. "He has a good combination of size and speed and I think that's what makes him such an elite player."
And speed, in this league, is the most difficult thing to defend.
"If your technique isn't right and your hands aren't right, speed will kill you," Thomas said. "You can have those real quick, fast guys and you can try to cover them up but if you don't use good footwork and hand placement, you'll never get them."
Mankins, coming off offseason surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, said he's "surviving" and is making progress week by week. As for which is more fun for an offensive lineman - pass or run blocking - Mankins served up a response typical of New England's locker room.
"Anytime you win, it's fun," he said. "So we're willing to do whatever it takes to win.
"It makes life a lot easier when you win."
Updated September 14, 2012