In 2015, the New England Patriots fielded the worst interior offensive line (IOL) in the Bill Belichick era and the front office made a clear attempt to improve the roster for 2016.
Guard Josh Kline is returning on a two-year extension and he should have one of the starting roles penciled in after his performance in 2015. He suffered a key shoulder injury that reduced his impact over the final stretch of the season, but he was pretty good while healthy.
The rising-sophomore tandem of Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason should return to compete for a starting role and their added experience will only serve to help them. While Jackson ended the year on a sour note due to his knee injuries, Mason seemed to pull everything together in the playoffs against the top quality defensive fronts of the Chiefs and Broncos. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Mason was the team's top offensive lineman in the playoffs.
The Patriots will also bring back Chris Barker, who served primarily as a practice squad and camp body in 2015.
At center, the Patriots will let the third-year Bryan Stork compete with rising-sophomore David Andrews for the pivot role- and the two are near opposite players. Stork is a mauler that thrives as a run blocker, but his pass blocker was not up to par (most noticeably when he tipped every single snap against the Broncos in the AFC Championship game). Andrews is undersized and it shows in the run game, but he was arguably the team's best pass blocking interior lineman last season.
New England has added three new faces to the competition, and two of them could be considered roster locks already.
The team acquired guard Jonathan Cooper from the Cardinals and his contract structure almost guarantees him a spot on the team, while the versatile Joe Thuney was the 3rd round selection in the 2016 draft and is a definite lock to make the squad.
The lone non-guarantee is 6th round right guard Ted Karras, who offers extremely limited physical upside but considerable experience as a quality pass blocker, which the team sorely missed in 2015.
Thuney might be the team's only ironclad roster lock, but I would consider Kline, Mason, Cooper, and Stork to be locks as well. If the team carries six interior linemen, who would be the next on the roster?
Check out our Running Back poll here. (James White: 26%, D.J. Foster: 25%, Donald Brown: 24%, Brandon Bolden: 19%)
Check out our Wide Receiver poll here. (Devin Lucien: 40%, Nate Washington: 34%, Aaron Dobson: 11%)
Check out our Tight End poll here. (Clay Harbor: 63%, James Develin: 19%)