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Patriots go for block in Mankins

FOXBOROUGH -- Fresno State's Logan Mankins said he would have been surprised regardless of where he was picked in yesterday's NFL Draft.

But as he made trip after trip inside his home in Fresno, Calif., to check on the happenings in the first round, he didn't expect to have to call his family and friends in to watch his name come off the board so soon.

The Patriots surprised Mankins and plenty of others by taking the 6-foot-4-inch, 307-pound offensive lineman with the 32d overall pick. Mankins is the first offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round by the Patriots since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000, and the first by the team since Damien Woody in 1999.

"I was surprised it happened in the first, and I'm just happy it did," Mankins said. "I didn't have any preference. It didn't matter where I had to go. I'm glad the New England Patriots drafted me because I know they're a great franchise. They're about winning and that's what I'm about.

"The main thing I know is that they have a great team and they've had great years the last few years. I'm happy to be a part of the New England Patriots."

A number of rating services had Mankins slotted as a third-round pick at best, but as is often the case, the Patriots' value system measured him a little differently.

"He's got a good background, been in a real good program, played for a good coach out there, and has a lot of position flexibility for us," Belichick said. "We feel like he's a good football player and will fit in well with us.

"We'll see what he can do when he gets out here, but he has some versatility and that may create some opportunities for him. We're looking forward to working with him."

Fresno State coach Pat Hill spent more than 22 years as an offensive line coach, including five seasons in the NFL. Four of those years he served under Belichick in Cleveland.

"I'm so proud of Logan," Hill said in a release on the school's website. "He worked so hard from the first day he stepped on campus and to have him become an NFL first-round pick is a testament to his ability and work ethic. As I said before, he is the best college lineman I've ever coached, and to be the fourth linemen taken in the NFL Draft shows how special a player he is."

Mankins, a native of Catheys Valley, Calif., who has two children, went to Fresno State as a walk-on, and left as a Walter Camp second-team All-America selection.

He started 40 games in three seasons with the Bulldogs, sitting out the 2003 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during two-a-day workouts. Mankins said the knee has healed and he had no complications last season.

Mankins returned to form with 82 pancake blocks in 2004, believed to be a school record, and according to Fresno State coaches, graded out at 91 percent. The team's benchmark for quality play from a lineman is 80 percent.

An aggressive blocker noted for finishing plays, Mankins was the first offensive lineman in the history of the school to be honored as the team's most valuable player.

Mankins, 23, played only left tackle in college, but is expected to be best suited as a guard in the NFL. The only time he has played guard was the week of the Senior Bowl.

"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "Whatever the team needs me to play -- I'll play guard, tackle, or center -- whatever they want me to."

The Patriots said Mankins's play would determine his position.

Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia put Mankins through a workout in California before the draft, but the first extended look for the entire staff will be Friday, during a three-day rookie minicamp at Gillette Stadium.

"We'll have to take a look at how he fits in our system," Belichick said. "Ultimately, we want to get the best five players out there. That'll be a function of how he does and may also be a function of how the rest of the unit fits together.

"Wherever he starts, we'll try to give him the opportunity to have some flexibility, and see what happens. Kind of like we did with [Matt] Light. Matt worked on the right side, the left side, and some at guard before ending up at left tackle."

Light, a second-round choice in 2001, has a lock on the left tackle spot. The Patriots return four of their five Super Bowl starters on the offensive line, having lost left guard Joe Andruzzi to the Browns in free agency.

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