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Patriots Training Camp Battle #3: Guards

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The Patriots did not re-sign Dan Connolly and drafted two guards in the 4th round.

Shaq Mason is one of many competing for a starting guard spot.
Shaq Mason is one of many competing for a starting guard spot.
Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

In this camp battle, there is not one but two open spots. Both sides are in an open competition with the best players will get to flank 2nd year center Bryan Stork. The offensive line was shaky at times last year, but they held together enough for the Patriots to capture their 4th Super Bowl title. As the defending champions, their opponents will come at them with the best they've got. The best way to fend them off is to give Tom Brady 3 seconds to throw the ball. With the Patriots and Brady, edge pressure is not going to get home if the interior does its job.

Contestants: Tre Jackson, Shaq Mason, Ryan Wendell, David Andrews, Cameron Fleming

On this list includes three rookies and a 2014 starter. Ryan Wendell wasn't the Week 1 starter at right guard, but settled in the role due to injuries and poor play. Tre Jackson was a 4-year starter at Florida State University, playing to Stork's right for the 2013 college season. Mason played right guard as well in college, for the Triple Option attack. His run blocking is superb, which could put him on the 46-man roster as an extra OL. Cameron Fleming tried out for the right guard job on the fly, but the game was too fast for him and he got overwhelmed by Dontari Poe and Sheldon Richardson in the two games he played at right guard. This offseason, he's training for the job and will need to show that he can play at the guard spot if he's to get any consistent set of playing time in 2015. David Andrews is another rookie (priority UDFA) on this list, but I don't see him winning a starting role barring unforeseen circumstances. However, he can still battle for a backup spot since he's a 3-year center from the University of Georgia.

Projected Winners: Tre Jackson (RG) and Ryan Wendell (LG)

I believe Jackson should be able to play the right guard position on Day 1 of camp. As a 4-year starter on an offensive line with a similar style to what the Patriots run, the learning curve is less steeper than for Shaq Mason and David Andrews. In terms of raw athleticism, Jackson isn't going to "Wow" people, but his 10 (1.88) and 20 (3.16) yard splits measure up well. Even though Wendell started 2014 at right guard, there's no reason that Jackson can't start over him. On the other side of Stork, there isn't a lot to bank on. It really comes down to whether the coaching staff thinks Shaq Mason is ready. I'm not 100% sure if Belichick is comfortable starting two rookies on the inside from the get-go, but Mason must show he's at least a solid pass protector in preseason and in camp to get the left guard job. In terms of run blocking, Mason is probably the best run blocker in the draft with the ability to pull, lead block, and pick up linebackers in the 2nd level. That alone could get him on the field for certain plays like with Fleming in 2014, whether it is as a lead blocker (i.e. Fullback with James Develin or LeGarrette Blount as the tailback) in a heavy package or as a 6th OL. Even though the Patriots didn't spend higher than a 4th round pick in the draft (that's as high as they go for college IOL), I believe the team got better (and most importantly, younger) at the position.

The Projected Starting OL would be: Solder-Wendell-Stork-Jackson-Vollmer (77-62-66-63-76). I believe that Mason will eventually grab a hold of the starting job at LG by this time next year. Wendell is a serviceable starter at best, but is still valuable because he can fill in at all 3 IOL positions seamlessly.