The New England Patriots need a bye week now. Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon is out, along with right guard Tre Jackson. Interior lineman Ryan Wendell has been placed on the injured reserve to make room for 2014 starting center Bryan Stork, himself returning from the short-term injured reserve with a neck/head injury. Left guard Shaq Mason is operating at 50% with a knee injury and a major limp.
What the heck are the Patriots going to do?
If Mason is unavailable to play, the Patriots will only be able to suit up five offensive linemen in tackles Sebastian Vollmer, Cameron Fleming, and interior linemen Josh Kline, David Andrews, and Stork. Hopefully Mason can play.
NESN's Doug Kyed reported that Stork had been practicing at guard in order to increase his utility since there's no way the Patriots would rotate the person responsible for snapping the football. Andrews is locked in at center.
Additionally, the 6'2, 300 lbs Andrews has been a center his whole football career. Stork was a tight end in high school before playing every spot along the offensive line at Florida State in college. The 6'4, 315 lbs Stork makes more sense to transition to a guard role, with back-up upside at every interior position, similar to the utility Wendell provided.
If I were the Patriots and Mason is available to play, I would use this game against Washington to bring back the offensive line rotation at guard. Let Mason and Stork split up 50% of the snaps at left guard, while veteran Josh Kline plays 100% of the time at right guard. This way Mason's time on the field is limited and Stork will be able to get his feet wet and receive coaching on the sideline in his first game at guard.
In the future, with the hopeful return of Cannon and Jackson to the line-up, I would actually leave Vollmer at left tackle and place Cannon at right tackle. The Patriots average 6.5 yards per carry with Cannon at right tackle, but just 3.5 yards per carry with him on the left. The passing game also sees an increase from 7.9 yards per pass to 8.3 yards per pass with Cannon on the right side.
I would also continue the rotation at guard to both integrate Stork into the line-up as an NFL caliber guard, and to mitigate injuries. I would play Mason and Stork at left guard and Kline and Jackson at right guard, in a 60-40 split. Andrews would remain the full-time center, with Stork as his back-up. I would not use the rotation at tackle.
If the Patriots can make it through this week without an injury, hopefully Cannon can return to the practice field, Mason can continue to heal, and Stork can get his sea-legs back. Jackson will need a few weeks before he fully recovers, but the health of the trio of nicked up players needs to improve.
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