Putting the offensive line in focus

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots held their first voluntary organized team activity open to reporters on Thursday, the top offensive line unit had just one carryover, center Dan Connolly, from the group that started Super Bowl XLVI nearly four months earlier.

Ten-year veteran Dan Koppen was relegated to the second team, beginning what will likely be a summer of battling to win back his old starting spot.

“There’s always guys coming in and trying to take your job,” Koppen said after practice. “My approach this year is not going to be any different than last year.”

Connolly, who replaced Koppen after he suffered a broken leg in the team’s opener last season, received a three-year deal this offseason with a $3.25 million signing bonus, while Koppen later re-signed with the team for two years with a $350,000 bonus.

“You just have to go out and compete and work hard, show the coaches that you can be reliable and dependable,” Koppen said. “I still have a lot of tread left on these tires, especially taking last year off.”

The Patriots were also without their two Pro Bowl guards from last season, Logan Mankins and Brian Waters. Flanking Connolly on Thursday were Ryan Wendell and offseason acquisition Robert Gallery.

Mankins is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, and he hopes to return in time for training camp. Waters is not in town for the voluntary workouts, and stated earlier in the offseason that he would contemplate retirement.

Tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who missed significant portions of last season with back and ankle injuries but returned for the Super Bowl, was not on the field Thursday. With 2011 first-round pick Nate Solder sliding in for a recently retired Matt Light at left tackle, 2011 fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon took over for Vollmer at right tackle.

With 12 offensive linemen able to practice in T-shirts and shorts on Thursday, the Patriots worked out three veterans at the position on Wednesday, according to a league source.

Tackles Brandon Keith and Stephon Heyer, as well as guard/center Jamey Richard, the three players who tried out, all have starting experience. The Patriots have 89 players on their roster, one shy of the 90-man limit.