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Josh Kline thrust into key role on Patriots’ offensive line

Patriot Josh Kline is no stranger to being a starter.
Patriot Josh Kline is no stranger to being a starter.john tlumacki/globe staff

FOXBOROUGH — Darrell Hazell knew Josh Kline was hurting.

Yet Hazell, then the head coach at Kent State, also knew there was no way he'd persuade Kline to come out of that game in 2011, nor would he be able to move the 6-foot-3-inch, 304-pound lineman out of the huddle.

Kent State, trailing Eastern Michigan, 22-20, was driving downfield when Kline pinched a nerve in his neck, but he refused to see the trainers, not until the Golden Flashes scored and escaped with a 28-22 victory.

"He had some stinger problems where his arm went dead for a while, and he stood in the huddle, and you could just see how much pain he was in," recalled Hazell, who is now the coach at Purdue. "But yet, there was no way in the world you could get that guy out of the game. Just so much determination of being a great finisher.

"Every time he came off the field, he was hurting, but he's just a tremendous competitor."

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With rookie center Bryan Stork (knee) ruled out for Sunday's AFC Championship game against the Colts, the Patriots will be counting on Kline for more than just his toughness.

They'll be counting on the second-year player to be up to the task of holding strong against the Colts' improved defensive front, trying to stop the likes of tackle Arthur Jones and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson from disrupting the Patriots offense.

Kline, who is likely to make his first career playoff start, was thrown into the fire last Saturday when Stork injured his knee in the second quarter against the Ravens.

Without Stork, the Patriots shifted Ryan Wendell from right guard to center and inserted Kline, who held his own against the Ravens' aggressive front.

"Anything that's a positive for the team is a positive for me," Kline said. "If I can come in and help out the team one game, then it's definitely good for me.

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"You've always got to prepare no matter what because you don't know what can happen. From a warmup standpoint, you always have to stay warm as much as you can on the sideline."

Kline has helped the Patriots in more than just one game. He started in Weeks 6 and 7 when Stork was out with a concussion and Wendell slid over to center.

In Weeks 16 and 17, Kline provided backup on the left side, starting in place of injured guard Dan Connolly.

"Well, from my perspective, he goes about his business every day, he's always working hard," said left tackle Nate Solder.

"I see him doing a little extra film study after practice and stuff, and that gives me a lot of confidence in him as a teammate."

Kline demands the best from himself and wants to please his veteran linemates.

"I expect a lot of myself and so does everyone else," Kline said. "Be accountable for yourself and have other guys tell you when you do something wrong or correct you, then there's upside to that."

Kline the Student has also played the role of Kline the Teacher.

At Kent State, Kline wasn't a captain, but that didn't prevent him from being vocal on the offensive line.

"He was very demanding of the guys next to him," Hazell said. "If they didn't do it right, he made sure they did it right next time. I can't pick a specific, but I remember him getting on the center for not making the block or the right call."

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Solder can see those qualities in Kline, as he tries to soak up all he can from his teammates.

It's that quality that has allowed Kline to succeed whenever he has been called on this season, and why Solder expects him to continue his strong play Sunday.

"He clearly has high expectations of the way he plays and he takes it to heart," Solder said. "He's been getting better and that says a lot."


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