Dan Connolly’s retirement this offseason snuck under the radar for the casual fan, but not to anyone who covered this team during Connolly’s tenure, and certainly not to longtime teammate and friend, Ryan Wendell.
“I can’t say enough good things about Dan, so whatever you want to write about Dan Connolly you can,” Wendell said, smiling. “He’s an awesome guy, an awesome teammate, one of my best friends. It was an honor and privilege for me to play behind him, next to him, anywhere around him for the past seven years. I wish we could play together for longer, but he’s got time with his family now and he’s enjoying that.”
The closeness between the two men is such that I asked Wendell if he tried to persuade Connolly to give it one more go this season.
“We want the best players we can get every year, and Dan is a great player,” admired Wendell. “I would love to have him out here, but this is the NFL - pro football - guys come and go all the time. We’ve lost guys in the past and made adjustments.”
They will have to do again. In fact, the Pats have been since the draft, when the team selected a pair of guards in the fourth round, Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson. Those two have been working with the first team since OTAs while Wendell rehabbed from offseason surgery. But now Wendell is back in the mix after that interminable wait, practicing for the first time Tuesday.
“I think every player wants to be on the field every snap,” said Wendell. “I’ve been trying to let Bill [Belichick] get me on defense and special teams...I’m sure I’d be terrible at all of 'em, but I do it anyway.”
There is some thought the Pats would willingly go into the year with both rookies flanking second-year center Bryan Stork. I wondered if that added to Wendell’s urgency in getting back as soon as humanly possible.
“I think you can’t spend any time worrying about things you can’t control,” he said. “The only thing I can control is doing the work I’ve had each day, and believe me, I’ve had plenty of work to do each day, and I do that each day trying to do the best I can. I feel like that’s what would be of the most help to the team and that’s all I can do.”
Wendell was the stabilizing force when inserted into the Pats starting lineup in Week 5 a season ago. Those protection problems that had plagued Tom Brady through the first four weeks magically disappeared with Wendell at right guard, Stork at center and Connolly at left guard. Perhaps the coaching staff will recall that and let the kids play themselves in or out of a job, knowing there’s security with Wendell waiting in the wings. But if the former Fresno State product is healthy, and capable, the smarter move would be to have him in the lineup as soon as possible.