Fifth in a series on the Patriots’ status at each position group heading into training camp.
No position group was more ravaged by injuries in 2015 than the offensive linemen. Every starter missed time with an ailment, and no blow was bigger than the torn biceps suffered by Nate Solder in Week 5, costing him the rest of the season.
Solder’s replacement, Marcus Cannon, was hurt the next week, forcing Sebastian Vollmer to switch positions, thereby weakening the team at both tackle spots. Vollmer was later injured, though both he and Cannon were back for the postseason.
Additionally, Bryan Stork and rookies Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson were all sidelined at times. Basically, the line was in a constant state of flux.
A return to health and the return of coach Dante Scarnecchia could go a long way in stabilizing the corps of men who protect Tom Brady and carve out holes for the running backs.
Stork, entering his third season, can be a stalwart and a leader. A center by nature, he played guard and tackle last season, too. He was tossed from a minicamp practice for tussling with rookie Woodrow Hamilton, and that is a good sign for an offensive lineman. The ornerier the better.
David Andrews was a real find last season. The rookie free agent center stepped in when Stork started the season on short-term IR, and the Patriots went 11-0 when Andrews started.
Solder and Vollmer are above-average tackles. Solder is athletic and can mirror pass rushers. Vollmer is as strong as an ox.
Cannon struggles with consistency, but his time in the program gives him the edge over LaAdrian Waddle. Joe Thuney played both tackle and both guard spots in college. The first of New England’s three third-rounders spent most of his time during spring at left guard. Whether that was because of need (Josh Kline and Jackson were not on the field) or by design, we’ll keep him at tackle for now.
Cam Fleming flip-flopped between the active roster and practice squad in 2015, and that could be the case again.
Jonathan Cooper arrived via the Chandler Jones trade, and the former first-round pick said he was anxious for a fresh start. He’ll get his chance to claim a starting spot, especially with Kline (shoulder) and Jackson (knee) possibly destined for the PUP list. Mason is exceptionally athletic for an offensive lineman and excels in the run game.
Sixth-round pick Ted Karras made 43 starts at Illinois, mostly at right guard. He’s tough and comes from great stock. With all the injuries, Karras could challenge for a roster spot or could land on the practice squad if he’s not snapped up by another team.
Chris Barker and Keavon Milton are long shots to make the 53, but both have practice squad eligibility and could be stashed there.
The turnover rate is high at these positions, especially because of the plethora of injuries, so bodies could be shuffled in and out during camp.
Up next: Defensive line.