Monday, December 14, 2009

Light-Vollmer tandem looks like best bet

With the return of rookie offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, the Patriots opted to go with a strict rotation at left tackle and right tackle against the Panthers on Sunday. Veterans Matt Light and Nick Kaczur started at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, and played each of the Patriots' first two series.

Starting with the Patriots' third series, however, Vollmer played both left tackle in place of Light and right tackle in place of Kaczur. The rotation gave each player a chance to take a breather -- but it also seemed to give the Patriots a chance to evaluate who fit best at left tackle and right tackle.

"It looked like all of them had a chance to play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "I’m not sure exactly how the number of plays worked out, but they all played a significant part. I think that was probably good for them to get a little break. It’s not often those guys do and are able to come back in and be fresh and go on those long drives. But we tried to work Sebastian back in this week, and he did with a decent number of plays."

An examination of the yardage statistics reveals something interesting: The Patriots were far more productive with Light at left tackle and Vollmer at right tackle than any other combination. It's a small sample size, but it's interesting nonetheless to see how productive the Patriots were with each of their three offensive tackles on the field:

* Light: 40 plays, 333 yards (8.325 yards per play)
* Vollmer: 34 plays, 283 yards (8.324 yards per play)
* Kaczur: 32 plays, 184 yards (5.75 yards per play)

Here's the left tackle-right tackle breakdown from the Patriots' longest drives of the day:
* 96 yards: Light/Vollmer
* 63 yards: Light/Vollmer
* 57 yards: Light/Vollmer
* 54 yards: Light/Kaczur
* 47 yards: Vollmer/Kaczur

The versatility of Vollmer made the rotation possible. Belichick has raved about the versatility of his rookie ever since he drafted him, and the rotation would have been virtually impossible without a tackle who can play both sides.

“You practice it and try to be ready when the situation comes," Vollmer said. "When Coach tells you to get in, you better be ready, so I take every chance, every opportunity I get in practice and in the game to get better.”

Nick Kaczur did play left tackle in college. Mark LeVoir can play either left tackle or right tackle -- albeit in a backup role. Matt Light began his NFL career at right tackle and was a disaster. That, though, is more the norm around the NFL. Vollmer is pretty unique in his ability to play at both ends of the line as well as he does.

"It's a little bit unusual for tackles to be able to play both sides at a high level," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Most tackles, usually, when you look at a normal draft board, you look at tackles and say, 'This tackle is more of a left tackle, and this tackle is more of a right tackle.' You have a few guys, maybe a quarter of them, as a guesstimate, where, 'This guy looks like he could be a swing tackle. ... When you look at Vollmer, he legimately can play both tackles."

Will Vollmer play both tackles the rest of the way? Belichick declined to specify on Monday whether he'd like to keep up the rotation in the future or if he'd like to settle on two guys to play the entire game. Kaczur went down with a shoulder injury in the third quarter, so the point could be moot.

But the Patriots did seem to be most produtive on Sunday with Light at left tackle and Vollmer on the right -- and it wouldn't be surprising to see them go with that tandem the rest of the way.

"I'd like to win," Belichick said. "I'd like to win. Whatever gives us the best chance to win, whatever we feel is best to win, then that’s what we’ll do."

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