ESPN’s Mike Reiss recently announced that New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney would be hobbled by a foot injury this off-season as a direct result of missing only five snaps during the 2017 season. Although Thuney should be available for the start of the 2018 season despite the necessary surgery, the situation smacks of the up-and-down season that the Patriots offensive line suffered in 2017 due to injury and issues with depth. As the off-season meanders on, the offensive line will be shuffled and re-shuffled until a suitable solution becomes clear.
New England Patriots Offensive Line Depth Review
One of the more glaring losses in the off-season was the departure of stone-wall left tackle Nate Solder, the man largely responsible for keeping our future-Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady upright as much as possible. The current starting option appears to be LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle. Waddle struggled to stay healthy toward the end of last season, relegated to the Inactive list week after week with a knee injury. Unfortunately, Waddle has been a career back-up option and may not have the durability to perform at the same level as Solder.
Antonio Garcia was drafted by the Patriots in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft to prepare for the eventuality of Solder’s departure, but he was sidelined for the entirety of his rookie season with blood clots in his lungs. Garcia says he will be ready to play in 2018 and will look to be second on the depth chart behind Waddle. The Patriots unofficial depth chart currently has Garcia listed as the fourth option at left tackle, but that can be expected to change.
Cole Croston spent a lot of the end of the 2017 season as a healthy scratch, but his presence on the 53-man roster to begin with after being signed as an undrafted free agent last year is notable. Croston impressed the Patriots top brass enough to be included in the conversion.
The Patriots also signed Matt Tobin. Seth Joyner once said that Tobin “has no business being on anyone’s roster.” Needless to say, Tobin will not be making jumps up the depth chart between now and September.
Marcus Cannon seems to be the top option to start at right tackle again this year. Cannon also struggled with injury during his 2016 and 2017 seasons and was placed on Injured Reserve as the 2017 regular season came to a close. He was scheduled to undergo surgery on his ankle to give him a clean bill of health for 2018.
The Pats recently moved to make a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for Trenton Brown. Brown was once referred to as “the best right tackle in the National Football League” by one of the league’s top pass-rushers in Von Miller. Brown has a serious shot at a starting position on the Patriots offensive line this season and may see some time at left tackle if Waddle and Garcia succumb to injury again. Cannon and Brown will be competing for the right tackle slot in camp this year, but Cannon would appear to have the edge over Brown for now.
Thuney, despite the injury that will keep him off the field in the off-season, will be the starting left guard in 2018. His primary competition for the position will be Ted Karras. Karras demonstrated incredible versatility last season as a plug-and-play option along the offensive line as injury hobbled various members of the offensive front.
The placement of Isaiah Wynn along the line has yet to be determined. Wynn was the Patriots first selection in this year’s draft, a clear attempt to grab a player who can start as soon as possible. Last Word On Pro Football’s David Latham speculated that Wynn may start at guard because of his size, knocking Thuney down the depth chart a little bit.
Luke Bowanko, who appears to be yet another depth/competition signing, looks to back up at guard.
Shaq Mason is the de facto starter at right guard as of right now. Given Thuney’s consistency at left guard, it seems more likely that Wynn would knock off Mason as the top option at right guard than Thuney on the left side. The Patriots also have Jason King on the roster. King has bounced between unemployment and the Patriots practice squad since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2017. If King sees snaps in 2018 before the game is in hand, the Patriots have serious problems.
David Andrews will return to the starting position at center for New England this season. Andrews beat out Bryan Stork for the starting job in 2016 and signed a three-year extension with the Patriots after the end of that season. He can be expected to remain the starter at the position as long as his contract allows.
James Ferentz, the third-year player out of Iowa, could see action if Andrews were to miss time, as he did in two games last season. But Karras also saw action at center last season and could factor into the mix if need be.
Last Word On Patriots Offensive Line
Right now, the standing starters are, from left to right, LaAdrian Waddle, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon. By the end of the season, expect that lineup to change more than a little bit. Eventually, expect Waddle to be replaced by Brown and Mason to be replaced or at least splitting snaps with Wynn. The offensive line will have to be a flexible beast as injury dictates, but the lack of clear starting talent may result in a good deal of unforeseen shuffling as the 2018 season wears on.
Embed from Getty Images