If you ask anyone who watched the New England Patriots over the past two seasons, “what is the Patriots biggest weakness”, you would likely get a unanimous, “their offensive line was awful.”
After rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson struggled last year, head coach Bill Belichick went out and added two potential starters in former Cardinals top 10 pick Jonathan Cooper and 2016 3rd round pick Joe Thuney. The line should be better in 2016.
“New England played 41 different offensive-line combinations in 2015,” PFF analyst Nate Jahnke writes, “no other team played more than 28.”
Jahnke believes the Patriots will have the 18th best offensive line 2016, which is a huge improvement after ranking 25th last year. The entire projected started line suffered serious injuries over the course of last season and the returned health will hopefully bring better results.
Left tackle Nate Solder will be back after tearing his biceps. Left guard Josh Kline, who was arguably the team’s best lineman last year until his injury, will be back from shoulder surgery. Center Bryan Stork will get a full offseason after starting the year on the short-term injured reserve. Right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer didn’t require surgery, but they suffered knee and ankle injuries, respectively.
“The Patriots’ offensive line was a frequent topic of conversation last season due to their ever-changing combinations,” Jahnke writes. “While they had one of the worst lines in 2015, things should get a little better in 2016 with the return of Nate Solder, which pushes Sebastian Vollmer back to right tackle. On the interior, Josh Kline played well as a run-blocker last season. Even if just one or two of their young interior linemen can improve, those players can win starting jobs and help this unit move up the ranking.”
Mason finished the season on a strong note with a fantastic pair of playoff games against two dominant defensive fronts and he could become an elite starter if he continues on that trajectory. He will be fending off Cooper and fellow draftee Jackson for time at right guard. Kline and Thuney will compete for the starting left guard position.
It would difficult for this offensive line to be any worse than they were last season. Mason, Jackson, and center David Andrews have a year of experience under their belt and Solder will improve the lineup. Kline, Stork, and Cooper will bring veteran experience.
Is 18th too high for the Patriots? Perhaps the stink from last season clouds my evaluation, but I’m surprised they rank ahead of the Dolphins, Jets, and the Browns.
I’m excited to see the how the line performs in 2016 and we’ve looked at some of the possible combinations. While Solder and Vollmer are penciled in as starters, the entire interior line is up in the air.
Part of me wants to see some combination of Kline, Thuney, and Mason on the interior because I think they could provide the highest level of ability. We’ll have to wait and see.