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New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 3, 2018 at 8:21 am ET

Health is the Biggest Question Mark

The Patriots head into training camp in just about three weeks now and as we’ve been saying, the competition this year at a number of positions will tell the tale on who goes and who remains. This has been a tumultuous offseason in many different ways. The Patriots lost a lot of key veteran players and all of the off-field hoopla surrounding Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been non-stop.

Soon that will all be behind us as the players get back on the field and we start talking about football again. In the next segment of our 2018 Patriots Training Camp primers is the Patriots Offensive Line.

The team lost left tackle Nate Solder this spring as he signed a big money contract with the Giants. He’s protected Tom Brady’s blind side for several years and done it well. Replacing a trusted veteran like Solder who was as good off the field for the team as well as on it.

So, with that in mind who are locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Trent Brown, Isaiah Wynn, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon

The Patriots traded for Brown with the 49ers this spring, giving up a 3rd round draft pick in return. Although he’s played mostly right tackle in the NFL, he says he can play anywhere and the team may move him to left tackle.

Brown is a mammoth-sized human being. Listed at 6’8, 359 pounds, he’s every bit of that and possibly even bigger. But for a very large man, he has surprisingly good footwork. And he’s just 25 years old. Brown got some great kudos from Denver’s Von Miller who said this about the new Patriot:

“He’s the best right tackle in the National Football League,” Miller said of Brown. “And he may even be a top-five tackle, period, in the National Football League. There’s not another tackle who’s that tall, that big and can move the way he moves.”

The team used a 1st round draft pick (#23 overall) on Wynn and although he played left tackle for the Bulldogs, he projects to be a left guard in the NFL. Wynn is short for a tackle, 6’2, 302 but both he and Brown were competing for the left tackle spot but during the spring, they lined up next to one another with Wynn at left guard.

Andrews, Mason, and Cannon have been starters and remain solid pieces who have performed very well. The only questions with the locks revolve around health. Brown and Wynn are coming off of shoulder surgery, while Cannon was placed on IR late last season.

If this unit is the starting five on Week 1 and we believe that they will be, the team should be in a very good position for the offensive line play to start the season. Cannon’s availability physically is the only question. Will he be ready to go? Or will he begin camp on the PUP?

Near Roster Locks: Joe Thuney, LaAdrian Waddle

Thuney missed the spring minicamp with an injury and his spot was taken by Wynn. It will be interesting to note if Thuney is healthy for training camp, he may a fight on his hands to get back his starting left guard spot from the talented rookie from Georgia.

There is a possibility that Thuney will start training camp on the PUP if he’s still not ready to go. Health is the only possibility we’d see with him not making the 53-man roster.

Waddle is a valuable swing tackle who they brought back during free agency despite his getting feelers from other teams. He can play either side and has performed well when called upon. And with the long season that the team faces, he’ll be called on again this year.

On the Bubble: Cole Croston, Jason King, James Ferentz, Andrew Jelks, Ted Karras, Matt Tobin, Luke Bowanko, Ulrick John

The Patriots have several players vying for one or possibly two spots along the OL. Our feeling here is that Croston nails down one of those slots. We penciled him in for first 53-man roster projection. He’s versatile and can fill in at guard or tackle if needed.

But his spot will have to be earned so, the competition factor again will come into play. The team brought back King this spring, so that speaks highly for him. Karras has made the team as a backup and can play guard or center.

What may open the door for one or two more of these players is if Thuney or Cannon or maybe both are placed on PUP to start training camp. But with the demanding and outstanding OL coach Dante Scarnecchia back in the fold for another year, one thing is for certain. He’ll get the very best out of this group.

While as a whole, they have to improve but in pass blocking and in the running game, Coach Scar made it clear back in the spring, “I really like the guys we have here right now,” he said during the OTAs.

So physical questions aside, the Patriots offensive line may be very different, at least on the left side this year but they also have the potential to be very good and better than the 2017 unit as well.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

The Patriots Should Bring Back Both LaAdrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Steve Balestrieri
February 24, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

Like the old saying goes…you can never have enough tackles or cornerbacks. And the Patriots were indeed fortunate to have the depth they enjoyed in 2017. They started the season with starters Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon in place. They drafted what they hope to be their left tackle of the future with Tony Garcia.

And they had returning swing tackle backups LaAdrian Waddle and Cam Fleming in place. It turned out all of those returning pieces were needed. Cannon was injured and placed on IR. Waddle stepped in and played very well. So well in fact, that they hardly missed a beat. He gave up a grand total of zero sacks on the season and seven QB hits in just under 350 offensive snaps this season.

Then Waddle got hurt and in stepped Fleming. He played very well in the playoffs and against the Eagles in the Super Bowl, he and Solder had very strong games. All four tackles played meaningful snaps during the season. And all, thanks to the superb coaching by Dante Scarnecchia, were very solid.

One need only look at some of the teams that struggled during the regular season, their offensive lines, particularly the tackle play was frequently a major issue. The Patriots not only used four but all of them did a good job overall during the season. They also have Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks who the team has high hopes for in the future as well as Garcia. Garcia, it turned out never took the field, he was on NFI list all season with an illness and we’ve read that he lost upwards of 40 pounds during the season.

Free Agency is Key to Continuity: Now three of those tackles are free agents. Solder, Waddle, and Fleming are all unrestricted free agents this spring. So the depth that they currently enjoy will be severely tested this spring.

We’ve already posted on how we feel about resigning Solder and what it may entail. You can re-read that here: In a perfect world, the Patriots would sign all three and enter the 2018 season intact again across the offensive line.

But they have to deal with the realistic scenario that Solder may either not return to the Patriots or retire this spring. Either could conceivably happen and if it does, then they have some decisions that they’ll be forced to make.

OL Cameron Fleming shares a laugh after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

While both Waddle and Fleming have played well as spot starters, do they want them playing on the edge for 16+ games as starters? Probably not. Then they’d be forced to look at free agency (not a great crop) or the NFL draft to find his replacement. Why? Garcia is still an unknown commodity. They haven’t seen him play yet. Compounded with his current medical condition, he’s a big question mark right now. And then they’d be looking at how to deal with the talented duo of swing tackle backups.  

Why Waddle and Fleming Will Resign:  The Patriots will probably try to resign both Waddle and Fleming. As last year showed, they were both needed and they each showed themselves valuable enough to play an important if limited role in their success.

Neither probably has a large enough body of work to be seriously considered for a starting position on another team. Would another team tempt either away with enough cash and an opportunity to start? The odds are against it but never say never. As we mentioned above, the tackle play around the league varied, and some teams were just awful.

It probably won’t break the bank with guaranteed money to bring back either. Both have familiarity with the system and coaches and like it here (much to the chagrin of Lane Johnson).

The absence of a bunch of guaranteed money will still allow the trio of Jelks, Croston, and Garcia to develop but leaves the team in a very good position in the event that there are the inevitable injuries.

They may decide on just one and let the other walk,  and deciding that either Jelks, Croston or Garcia is worthy of backup snaps with a chance to start down the road. In which case it would be a difficult decision. While Waddle has played the better of the two, his injury history this season may give the team some pause.

But the key from a Patriots’ perspective begins with getting Solder back in the fold. If they are able to do that, then getting their swing tackles back will be a nice addition. I think it is a no-brainer that they’ll try to bring back at least one and possibly both Waddle and Fleming.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

Continuity and Preparing for 2018 are Keys

The Patriots head into training camp in less than two weeks and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Offensive Line position.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So we’re going to take a look at the Patriots Offensive Line. One of the keys to the 2016 success and part of the struggle down the stretch in 2015 had to do with continuity. The Patriots five starters played together nearly wire-to-wire last year and their performance showed. In 2015 injuries decimated the unit and the team couldn’t get any kind of cohesiveness going.

The good news is that five starters return as well as some of their top backups. But the team didn’t neglect their offensive line this offseason. With an eye to the future, they drafted two tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft, Tony Garcia, and Connor McDermott. Garcia in particular looks to have been drafted with 2018 and beyond in mind.

Although the team lost RT Sebastian Vollmer to retirement this spring, he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury and with the ascendance of Marcus Cannon, the team looks to be in good shape there.
So, with that in mind who is locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Tony Garcia
The starting five returns, seem to be healthy and are locked on the roster this summer. Solder returned from IR in 2015 to play very solidly last year. He’s in the last year of his contract and with that in mind, the team has drafted two possible replacements.

Moving up and using multiple picks to draft Garcia, he’s obviously someone who Dante Scarnecchia feels can be a left tackle of the future. With Solder in place for at least 2017, there is no pressure on Garcia to produce early. This will be a red-shirt type of year for him to learn the system and develop under the tutelage of Coach Scar.

Cannon came out of the doghouse to play very well in 2016. Guards Mason and Thuney are young and physical and should only improve. Andrews is an undersized but smart center and he’s not going anywhere.

Unless there is an injury somewhere, I see no changes happening along the starting lineup for the Patriots offensive line in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Last season both Fleming and Karras were the top backups for the tackles and the interior line last year. They both have the inside track for the top backup positions again as well. Karras has the versatility to play either guard or back-up the center David Andrews. He’s not the most athletic guy but he’s physical and tough.

Fleming was the swing tackle last year and will be trying to hold off the rookies Garcia and McDermott from taking that job away from him. He’s versatile and can fill in at either left or right tackle, something that is easier said than done.

On the Bubble: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Max Rich, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris, Jason King, James Ferentz
The Patriots have plenty of depth at the backup positions and these players are likely to be fighting for reps in training camp and a most likely only one or two slots.

Waddle has been a backup tackle and a blocking tight end but with the depth, at that position, he’ll be pushed hard for a roster spot. McDermott is another intriguing prospect. He’s a guy that the Patriots used a pair of picks to get, albeit in the sixth round of the draft. Would he pass thru waivers if the team tries to stash him on the practice squad? That would seem to be his best bet to make the roster, at least this summer, unless the inevitable injuries occur.

With a lot of bodies in camp, this will be an intriguing group to watch. They’ll have the entire preseason to make a case for sticking, so staying healthy and on the field, will be of primary importance.

Our next primer will have the Patriots defensive line… stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.