How Mankins was eased into mix

TAMPA – Earlier this offseason, there was a question if left guard Logan Mankins would be ready for the season opener on Sept. 9.

Mankins, the four-time Pro Bowler recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL, took a significant step toward that goal in Friday night’s preseason game.

As part of the athletic training and medical staff’s specific plan for him, he played the team's first 11 offensive snaps. It was part of getting him acclimated to game speed and live contact for the first time.

Because Mankins was on a specific snap count, it led to a quick substitution for the final play of the first quarter, with Donald Thomas replacing him.

“They had a play limit on me and when I got to it, they took me out,” explained Mankins, who should be in the lineup on opening day. “I survived and didn’t get anyone killed out there. That’s always a good thing.”

Using Mankins’ debut as a springboard, here is a look at the O-line combinations the Patriots utilized on Friday night, followed by some quick-hit thoughts:

1. Solder-Mankins-Connolly-Thomas-Cannon (3 snaps)

2. Solder-Mankins-Connolly-Thomas-Cannon (3 snaps)

3. Solder-Mankins-Koppen-Connolly-Cannon* (13 snaps)

4. Solder-Thomas-Wendell-Connolly-Cannon (4 snaps)

5. Solder-Thomas-Wendell-Connolly-Cannon (7 snaps)

6. Solder-Thomas-Wendell-McDonald-Cannon (3 snaps)

7. Solder-McDonald-Koppen-Connolly-Cannon (3 snaps)

8. Solder-McDonald-Koppen-Connolly-Cannon (4 snaps)

9. Solder-Thomas-Koppen-Connolly-Cannon (10 snaps)

10. Solder-Thomas-Wendell-McDonald-Cannon (9 snaps)

11. Solder-Thomas-Wendell-Connolly-Cannon (13 snaps)

* Mankins replaced by Thomas for 7 of final 8 plays of drive; Nick McDonald replaced Thomas for final play when Thomas had an equipment issue.

Quick-hit thoughts:

* Dan Connolly opening at center was notable, but when it came to his overall workload, it was still just six snaps at center and 54 snaps at right guard.

* Starting tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon played the entire game. Going to stick with the thought that Cannon projects as a better fit at guard, but the Patriots need the help more at tackle at this time.

* For what it’s worth, Dan Koppen was at center for the two best scoring drives of the night for the first-unit, Tom Brady-led offense. The center competition has been flying under the radar a bit, but it's a good one with Koppen, Wendell and Connolly the top three options (in no specific order).

* Seemed like a good showcase for Donald Thomas at left guard. If he is on the roster bubble, as some project, he has seemingly proven he can be a valuable contributor for an NFL team regardless of whether it’s in New England.