The New England Patriots are still trying to figure out their starting line-up. In fact, there are only a handful of players that continue to play nearly every snap.
On offense, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, (surprisingly?) Aaron Dobson, and Dion Lewis see most of the time on offense. The Patriots rotate Danny Amendola and Scott Chandler in that fifth skill player position.
When looking at the trenches, only undrafted rookie center David Andrews plays in the same spot all game. The Patriots continue to take tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer off the field to get Marcus Cannon some action, and Josh Kline has acted as a swing guard while rookies Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson get some time.
On defense, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, and Pat Chung are the stalwarts, while the other positions sees a rotation. This means a continuous change at defensive tackle and the cornerback spot opposite of Butler.
Logan Ryan, Tarell Brown, and Bradley Fletcher all took the field at cornerback, while Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Jabaal Sheard all took the field according to the personnel needs.
The defensive line rotation makes sense to give players rest, but why are the Patriots rotating on the offensive line and at cornerback?
There is value to consistency on the offensive line and it would make sense that plugging and pulling rookie guards would make it difficult for the offensive line to create any cohesion- and putting Bradley Fletcher on the field seems like a homing beacon for trouble.
Think back to the start of the 2014 season when the Patriots did the same thing. They were trying to figure out the optimal offensive line grouping, which involved playing time for Jordan Devey and Cannon. There were early rotations where Dan Connolly played center and guard as Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell rotated on the field.
I consider this an extension of the preseason. It's clear that the Patriots don't want to throw their rookies right into the fire (although Andrews has been particularly fire-proof). With the return of Bryan Stork on the distant horizon, and with Ryan Wendell recovering, the final New England interior line is anyone's guess. But injuries happen and players have to step up when called upon.
Veterans like Wendell can be called upon for a certain level of expected play. He's a proven commodity. Shaw Mason is not; the rookies and young players need all the experience they can get. If the final offensive line involves Wendell, Stork, and Kline, but one of them suffers a week 16 injury, the Patriots will have three rookies that have seen early time and experience.
Think of the cornerback position in a similar light. Brown and Fletcher have injury histories and Ryan has been inconsistent. All three players need to be ready to play in an instant. Brown and Fletcher are also new to the team with little experience in the defensive system- they need snaps just as much as the rookie offensive linemen.
The rotation can and will be frustrating to see, but it's necessary for the sake of competent depth. The Patriots might not feel settled until the back half of the regular season, so the rotational could very well be here to stay.