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The Purpose Behind Rotating Offensive Linemen During the Game

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Explaining why Bill Belichick and Dave DeGuglielmo continue to rotate offensive linemen in the game.

David Andrews has been a large part of the Patriots IOL resurgence.
David Andrews has been a large part of the Patriots IOL resurgence.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last couple seasons, the New England Patriots have been rotating offensive linemen in and out of football games. In the first year, the Patriots rotated Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming, and Jordan Devey at guard. That experiment turned out to be an abysmal failure, as the return to health for Stork allowed for the Patriots to play Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell at guard for the rest of the season.

Even though Connolly and Wendell were mediocre guards, they did the job well enough for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. In 2015, the Patriots drafted guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson in the 4th round as well as signing undrafted rookie center David Andrews. With an improved Josh Kline, those four along with Cannon have provided a more stable rotation on the interior offensive line. Andrews has been the only Patriots offensive linemen to play 100% of the snaps, in large part to being the only healthy center on the roster and Kline playing guard.

Here's the Offensive Line Snap Count, out of a possible 227 snaps

Player
Position
Snaps
% Snaps
David Andrews
C
227
100%
Marcus Cannon
G
15
6.6%
Marcus Cannon
T
87
38.3%
Tre Jackson
G
108
47.6%
Josh Kline
G
193
85.0%
Shaq Mason
G
153
67.4%
Sebastian Vollmer
T
163
71.8%
Nate Solder
T
204
89.9%

From the Snap Counts, the Patriots are looking to ease in both Jackson and Mason into the NFL as well as get a good idea of how Josh Kline would do playing both sides. At worst, he looks like an effective swing guard. It's hard to figure out if either Mason or Jackson gets a big role with the team when all the OL pieces are healthy, but it's probable that Kline gets a starting job for the rest of the season based on the snap counts. Right now, Bryan Stork is on IR-DTR with his 3rd concussion in 3 years and Ryan Wendell has been inactive the first three weeks with an undisclosed illness that's limiting him greatly in practice. Who knows how the OL will shape up once those two are healthy and on the active?

There are benefits to rotating offensive linemen if you have the talent and depth that the Patriots bolster right now. Those are:

  1. Ease rookies Into game action
  2. Best way to get into football shape is to play football games
  3. Depth players get in-season repetitions they normally wouldn't and would allow for the coaching staff to deal with an absence
  4. Gives the coaching staff game tape to figure out the best combination for when the most difficult portion of the season begins in November
  5. Opposing teams don't have their defenses 100% figured out right now
There are also risks to this type of rotation, which include:
  1. Players weaknesses exposed
  2. Potential lack of chemistry
In the Patriots' case, the benefits outweigh the risks. The only new additions to the offensive line from the 2015 roster from the 2014 roster are the three rookies. The only loss was left guard Dan Connolly, who was the worst of the starting five on the offensive line in 2014. Even with that turnover on the OL, the upgrade in talent has been a major difference in the unit for the first three games this year. For what was considered a weakness in 2014, it is no longer the case in 2015 although it helps when your quarterback, Tom Brady, has the quickest release in football. When the Patriots do settle for their starting five, my picks would be Solder-Mason-Stork-Kline-Vollmer although you can make a case with Andrews at center as well.