A week after getting the first significant snaps of his young career, offensive lineman Josh Kline made his first career start Sunday against the Ravens, playing at left guard.
With Nate Solder out as he dealt with concussion effects, the Patriots decided to have stalwart Logan Mankins start at Solder’s customary left tackle spot, and slid Kline into Mankins’s usual guard position.
It was the second time in his career Mankins started at tackle; the first was against Miami in Week 16 of the 2011 season, when a late scratch of Matt Light necessitated the move.
Kline, listed at 6 feet 3 inches, 295 pounds, was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State, and was on the 53-man roster for the regular-season opener but then was released and re-signed to the practice squad for six weeks. Promoted before the Pittsburgh game, after Sebastian Vollmer’s season-ending injury, Kline played sparingly until the Miami game two weeks ago.
Mankins gave Kline a thumbs-up in the days before the Baltimore game, saying he’d bought into line coach Dante Scarnecchia’s techniques. On Monday, coach Bill Belichick also gave the rookie a positive review.
“Josh was a good player in college. He wasn’t drafted, we were able to recruit him and sign him as a college free agent,” Belichick said. “He played guard in college but we also worked him some at center, he played both center and guard in the preseason. Versatile guy, he’s got good intelligence.
“He’s worked hard and steadily improved through the course of the season in every area: his versatility, run blocking, pass blocking, work in the weight room. He’s given us confidence in the way that he’s practiced.”
Belichick continued that the staff felt moving the dependable Mankins, whom Belichick said last week could play any of the five spots on the offensive line and play it well, and having Kline play guard was the best option against the Ravens.
Belichick also credited offensive assistant Brian Daboll with bringing Kline to his attention.
2014 foes set
Now that all of the division winners in the AFC have been decided, the Patriots’ opponents for 2014 also have been finalized.
In addition to their six games against AFC East opponents New York, Buffalo, and Miami, the Patriots also face all four NFC North teams and all four AFC West teams.
As division champion, they also host this year’s AFC North winner, Cincinnati, and travel to face the AFC South winner, Indianapolis.
Home games will be against the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Bears, Lions, Broncos, Raiders, and Bengals. Road games are against the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Packers, Vikings (who are scheduled to open a new stadium next season), Chiefs, Chargers, and Colts.
The NFL typically unveils the regular-season schedule in April.
In good company
With New England winning the 11th division title of his 14-season tenure as head coach, Belichick tied Don Shula for most division titles since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Shula won 11 division titles in his 26 years as Dolphins head coach. He also won three division titles coaching the NFL’s Baltimore Colts from 1963-69 . . . Bills coach Doug Marrone said last week he felt “110 percent confident” that rookie quarterback EJ Manuel would start against the Patriots in the regular-season finale, even though Manuel sat out Sunday’s win over Miami with a swollen left knee. On Monday, Marrone wasn’t as confident, saying, ‘‘We’ll get him out there tomorrow and take a peek at him.’’ Whoever runs the Buffalo offense might be without two key targets. Receiver Stevie Johnson’s status remains uncertain with his mother’s funeral to be held on Friday, and rookie receiver Marquise Goodwin aggravated a left knee injury against the Dolphins . . . Sunday’s win, which was broadcast on CBS, drew a 35.9 rating and 60 share in the Boston market, making it the fourth-most watched Patriots game of the season locally. The Steelers game drew the highest rating (40.3), followed by the Denver (37.3) and Carolina (36.4) games.