The New England Patriots interior line has been the downfall of the offense for the better part of the past decade. As the interior plays, so goes the rest of the offense.
We can point to how the Giants dismantled the Patriots offense with their patented NASCAR packages with four defensive ends, and how current Patriot, but then-Bronco, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton disemboweled Logan Mankins and the interior line in 2013.
We could see how the the offense solidified in 2014 after inserting Bryan Stork and Ryan Wendell into the lineup in place of Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming, just as we could see the offense fall apart in 2015 when Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, and Tre Jackson all suffered injuries.
The Patriots are hoping to improve their odds in 2016 and have focused a lot of their attention on adding quality interior linemen to the roster, including using a third round pick on Joe Thuney and acquiring former top 10 pick Jonathan Cooper from the Cardinals.
Cooper is excited to put his time in Arizona in the past, and having the chance to compete for starting time and to reboot his career.
“It’s just one of those things, you’ve worked hard and things just haven’t seemed to fall your way,” Cooper said on SiriusXM NFL, via ESPN. “Honestly, it’s more of a mental thing than anything else. I feel like the biggest thing is the actual fresh start with a new organization and being able, from this day forward, to rewrite my history and be a better player than I was before.”
Cooper noted that some of his struggles in Arizona were due to mental challenges of recovering from serious injury. He felt that he could understand the playbook and the overall football concepts, but felt that when the mental challenges went “beyond the field,” he struggled to keep up.
With the three starting guards from 2015 battling ailments, Cooper has had the chance to run with the rag-tag first team offensive line unit at right guard, with the rookie Joe Thuney at left guard.
If we look back at ESPN Mike Reiss’ roster projection, he slates Thuney and Cooper as the starters, with Mason as the top back-up and Kline and Jackson potentially on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to start the season.
While Mason was fantastic in playoffs, there’s no question that he seriously struggled in pass protection during the regular season and he will have to show increased consistency if he is to win a starting role.
Thuney looks to be in the long term plans for the Patriots, but Cooper will be a free agent after this season. His job is to make the Patriots decision to let him walk after the season as difficult as possible.
If Cooper remains the starter for the 2016 season, he will have likely outplayed the likes of Mason and Kline, which would signify that quarterback Tom Brady had better protection than he did last season- which would be a good sign for the team’s odds of making it back to the Super Bowl.