Patriots up front concerning this test

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 27, 2011

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Click on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s profile on the Detroit Lions’ website, and you’re met with the image of the then-rookie chasing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one massive arm outstretched and on Brady’s right shoulder.

For Lions fans, the image shows in part why Suh, the team’s first-round pick (second overall) a year ago, was an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in his first season, and offers hope that he will be a force for a young and improved team for years to come.

For Patriots fans, well, they hope they don’t see that tonight. Certainly not in the preseason, when teams walk the fine line of getting stars enough snaps to shake the rust off, but not too many that someone prominent ends up injured.

That is why the game at Ford Field might be the best test possible at this point for New England’s offensive line. The rest of the team will benefit as well, but Detroit’s defensive front is one of the best in the NFL.

The challenge got a little easier when the Lions announced that defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who former teammate and current Patriot Albert Haynesworth pointed to earlier this month as the type of high-motor player he is not, won’t play because of a shoulder injury.

Nor will this year’s first-round pick, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who underwent surgery for a fractured foot just days into camp and isn’t expected to be ready until the start of the regular season.

But Suh, who can say that one of his 10 sacks in 2010 was of Brady on Thanksgiving, is expected to play, as is fellow tackle Corey Williams and Cliff Avril, an end who had 8 1/2 sacks in 13 games last year.

“Suh, he’s a really good player,’’ Patriots guard Logan Mankins said this week. “Across the board, they’ve got good players that are strong and they play with a good style, so it will be a challenge.

“In our O-line room, we all know we need to make improvements and this will be a good week to see if we made any.’’

Job No. 1 is protecting Brady, and making it as easy as possible for him to move the offense. Brady respects the Lions, and knows the onus is on him to get the ball out quickly.

“We have a very good idea of the issues they present for the front, running backs included,’’ Brady said. “It’s a very talented group, a very talented front, especially pass rushing. They can get after the quarterback, so you’re not going to be standing back there holding onto it for too long - not that we do that very often, anyway.

“But especially a week like this where all those guys really feed off the sacks, the negative plays [and] their crowd really feed into it, which was evidenced by us in the first half of the game last year. That’s always a concern when you play a team with a good front, so there’s a lot of thought that goes into play-calling, and obviously, me making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball.’’

Earlier in the week, Brady discussed the need for him to speed up his internal clock and to make decisions even faster on the field, something he wasn’t happy with after last week’s exhibition game against the Buccaneers.

He saw improvement this week in practice, and the thought of Suh or Avril breathing down his neck might force clarity, too.

In that game in Detroit last November, which was Mankins’s fourth of the season, the Lions’ defensive line got off to a fast start, with Suh’s sack of Brady coming on New England’s first possession.

Mankins didn’t agree that the Lions “stunned’’ the Patriots’ linemen, and knows that sometimes not every battle on the field can be won.

“It’s going to happen when you go against good players - they’re going to get you sometimes, and you’ve got to be ready for it and do the right thing, be in the right position or guys with that talent level, they’re going to take advantage of it,’’ he said.

It wasn’t clear if New England’s starting offensive line tonight would include Matt Light, who has been working back slowly after offseason surgery on his right shoulder. Bill Belichick said Thursday that Light was close to getting into a game, and that he would play if he was ready.

If Light isn’t ready, rookie Nate Solder could be facing a trial by fire, but there’s no better way to know whether he’s up for the task of protecting Brady’s blind side.

If Solder and the rest of his linemates aren’t up for test, the picture of Suh chasing Brady on the Lions’ website could be duplicated.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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