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Sports

Patriots prioritize depth on offensive line

Florida State offensive lineman Bryan Stork answered questions Jan. 3 before Florida State played Auburn in the national title game.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

Florida State offensive lineman Bryan Stork answered questions Jan. 3 before Florida State played Auburn in the national title game.

FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots entered the final day of the NFL Draft with seven picks and seized the opportunity to bolster the offensive line and add depth to the interior positions.

With three of the team’s first four selections Saturday, the Patriots drafted Florida State center Bryan Stork (fourth round, 105 overall), Stanford tackle Cameron Fleming (4th, No. 140), and Florida guard Jon Halapio (6th, No. 179).

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Adding depth to the line wasn’t necessarily a preconceived plan, according to coach Bill Belichick, more that the players were available.

“Just turned out that way, pretty much where the value was,” Belichick said. “Halapio has been a real good player at Florida, so we were probably a little surprised to see him where he was. Fleming is a tackle, we felt that was good value there, and Stork has been a good center for Florida State.”

The Patriots also selected Wisconsin running back James White (4th, No. 130), Concordia defensive end Zach Moore (6th, No. 198), Georgia Tech cornerback Jemea Thomas (6th, No. 206), and Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (7th, No. 244).

There is continuity in the Patriots’ offensive line. Working from left to right, Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Sebastian Vollmer have been mainstays on the blocks since 2012.

Last season, Vollmer missed eight games with a broken leg and Marcus Cannon and Will Svitek filled that hole. That same starting five likely will be rolled out this season, but the landscape on the offensive line could transform sooner rather than later.

Wendell, who’s signed through 2015, was less than solid last season, allowing 37 quarterback disruptions, according to Pro Football Focus. Connolly, who will be 32 in September and is in the last year of his contract, also struggled.

It’s too early to tell how the draft picks will shake out, but if Stork or Halapio make strong improvements in camp and prove they are ready to play, the Patriots could have more options at the guard position.

Stork, a 6-foot-4-inch, 315-pound bruiser, has the build of a prototypical interior lineman and the versatility to play center or guard. He started all 13 games for the national champion Seminoles and won the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top center.

He did not participate in the combine because of knee and shoulder injuries (medical exclusion), but said he is fine.

“I just want to come in and compete for a job and go to work,” Stork said. “That’s all I’m worried about. Not going to predict that I start, I just want to play ball.”

Halapio was the second Florida player the Patriots selected, along with defensive tackle Dominique Easley, picked 29th in Thursday’s first round.

Halapio missed the first two games of his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle. The injury was an 80 percent tear, but Halapio played through it for the remaining 10 games.

Halapio said the pain, “feels like somebody is stretching your chest muscle so far it snaps like a rubber band when you pull it too far.”

Meanwhile, Fleming provides depth and insurance for the team at the tackle position, considering Cannon is in the last year of his deal and Svitek was not re-signed. Fleming, who is 6-5 and 323 pounds, started all 14 games at right tackle last season for Stanford, which rushed for a school-record 2,904 yards.

The Patriots added depth to the backfield with White, who finished his Wisconsin career with the fourth-most rushing yards (4,015) and third-most rushing touchdowns (45) in program history.

Moore became the first-ever draftee from Concordia, a Division 2 school in St. Paul.

“There’s always something to prove,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t a Division 2 football player, I’d always have a chip on my shoulder and I’d always be a competitor.”

Moore terrorized opposing quarterbacks with a school-record 33 sacks in 39 career games. At 6-5 and 269 pounds, his athleticism stands out and he can play all over the defensive line.

In Thomas, a 5-9, 192-pound defensive back, the Patriots are getting a slightly undersized player who counters with an aggressive and physical playing style.

Thomas led the Yellow Jackets with 88 tackles and eight pass breakups as a senior. Thomas played all over the secondary and filled in at safety, which should help the Patriots.

Gallon, a 5-7, 185-pound slot receiver, had 80 catches for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior.

Anthony Gulizia can be reached at agulizia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gulizia_a
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