February 10, 2003
Stumbling Blocks Instead Of Building Blocks
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Next in a series of positional analysis on the 2002 New England Patriots. Today: Offensive line.
You have to be thinking if these guys were under hypnosis last year.
In 2000, Joe Andruzzi was a bum who was plucked off the scrap heap, Sale Isaia made everyone pine for Heath Irwin and played only because they had to play him, Bruce Armstrong asked as much as his old body could give, Grant Williams was mediocre veteran help, Greg Robinson-Randall was the darling of training camp, Adrian Klemm was invisible thanks to an injury, and Damien Woody was an All-Pro in the making.
In 2001, Andruzzi became a national hero (well, actually his brothers did) and suddenly looked like Larry Allen (sorry, we can't possibly say John Hannah), Mike Compton came on board as a free agent and found a new life, Matt Light was drafted and did everything magnificently except blocking speed rushers, Robinson-Randall developed into the right tackle for many years to come, Williams wound up throwing two of the most important blocks in team history in the Super Bowl (both of which came on the same play), Klemm was invisible thanks to an injury, and Woody was an All-Pro in the making.
In 2002, Andruzzi got hurt and went back to looking like a bum, Compton started to show his age, Light began to play like his last name suggests (and still couldn't stop speed rushers), Randall got rid of one of his last names and flunked the conditioning test, which cost him the starting job he was supposed to have for the next 12 years, Kenyatta Jones took his place and played like the project he is but at times showed some good stuff, Stephen Neal was trying to become the first player from an NCAA Division II basketball powerhouse to make it in the NFL, Klemm finally beat the injury bug and played mostly well, and Woody finally made the Pro Bowl.
How important is the offensive line? When it was good, it was 2001. We'll leave you alone with your powers of reasoning.
The cohesion that the line magically found in '01 never materialized in '02. It started with Randall's sad story and went downhill from there. Though the group from '01 was there in '02, sorta-kinda, it was a sub-par year for this bunch who was so instrumental in the fortunes of the Patriots in their championship year the season before.
Where to begin? Randall is a good starting point, but the unsettled situation at right tackle is only the tip of the iceberg. Jones may yet be the right tackle of the future and not Randall, as Randall seems not to have escaped Bill Belichick's doghouse quite yet.
Light was a major disappointment in '02. He slipped down in several areas, including overall pass blocking and false starts. Seeing him get tossed around by Bobby Abraham in the second Jets game was particularly disheartening, but Abraham is someone Light has problems with anyway. Light battled injuries in '01 yet enjoyed a fine rookie season; after his sophomore jinx season, the left tackle position may be in doubt going into '03.
Had Andruzzi stayed healthy, one has to wonder if he could have duplicated his fine '01 season. Andruzzi had a breakout season that year after three nondescript years with the Green Bay Packers (23 games but only 4 starts). He gave us all a heart tug after September 11th of 2001, but heart tugs don't count when trying to win Super Bowls are involved. He'll be 28 in August, and in his prime years. If he is recovered, he might be able to rebound and have another decent year.
Compton, on the other hand, does not have youth on his side. He turns 33 in September, but managed to provide the steadiest work on the line other than Woody. Compton, who also doubles as shotgun snapper, is still of value to the club and hasn't shown the aging process some of the defenders have shown.
Woody managed to secure his first trip to Honolulu at the expense of the medical travails of Oakland's Barret Robbins. The first-round pick from BC in '99 has finally come into his own as one of the league's most dominant centers. Projected in his rookie season as the next Dermontti Dawson, Woody is the anchor of the line as well as its most solid player. He makes the calls, sets the best examples, and is one of the more vocal players on the team. He is a good source of team leadership; other than Tom Brady, he might be to the offense what Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law are to the defense.
Some folks might be hoping that Belichick drafts a tackle early in the draft. Given the combined problems of Light, Randall and Jones, it's not that bad an idea. It's just that other areas need help worse, and the Patriots do have some options out there if they decide not to go tackle on day one.
First of all, the middle three are okay, injuries notwithstanding. Grey Ruegamer is a versatile, if not mega-talented, backup. Just keep him away from the Dolphin defense and he's okay.
Two individuals who bear a lot of watching in training camp are Klemm and Neal. When finally healthy, Klemm did quite well in filling in for Andruzzi, as well as seeing some duty at tackle, his natural position. Neal looked decent for the most part, and did earn a start at San Diego. But he himself also got hurt and found his way to IR. The former Cal State-Bakersfield wrestler ought to be given a chance to challenge Andruzzi for the starting left tackle job in '03, and Klemm should be at the ready to win one of the two tackle positions.
All in all, despite all the questions that linger on the line, they have a great chance to rebound and get back to greatness in '03.
At least the Patriots are set at long snapper. Lonie Paxton is dynamite, dependable, and makes great snow angels. Too bad the latter talent wasn't needed in '02.
Next installment: Defensive line.
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