The mandatory phase of the New England Patriots’ offseason workouts is over – at least until training camp finally starts next week (July 28) – and we have re-entered the quieter parts of the NFL calendar.
However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop. After all, by late August, each team has to start making its roster cuts. Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with center Bryan Stork.
Name: Bryan Stork
Jersey number: 66
Size: 6’4, 310 lbs.
2015 review: After a solid 2014 rookie season, Stork was penciled in as the Patriots' starting center entering 2015. However, he would not start his first game at the position until week 11 as his season began on short-term injured reserve: Stork suffered a concussion – his third in three years – in training camp and also had to deal with a muscle-related neck issue.
Consequently, he was placed on injured reserve prior to New England's season opener. Stork was activated and started practicing after week 6 and saw his first game-action in week 8 against the Washington Redskins when he replaced Cameron Fleming, who switched to the left side after Sebastian Vollmer left the game, at right tackle.
Stork also played right tackle the following week but ultimately returned to center during the Patriots' week 10 game against the Buffalo Bills, replacing David Andrews. He started seven of New England's next eight games at the position and thus finished the 2015 season with 10 games played.
Stork was on the field for 50.4% of the team's offensive snaps last year (631 of 1,253) and was really good as a run blocker but inconsistent as a pass protector, giving up a total of 19 pressures (4 sacks, 7 hits, 8 hurries). Overall, though, despite finishing the season with the snap-tipping disaster in the AFC Championship Game (which was not 100% his fault), Stork had a solid second year in the league – especially considering the overall turmoil the Patriots' offensive line was in.
2016 preview: Entering 2016 training camp, Bryan Stork is the favorite to once again establish himself as the Patriots’ starting center. He still needs to earn the role, though, by consistently performing in practice and during preseason and by continuing to grow, particularly as a pass protector. If Stork can do all that – and stay healthy –, the job seems to be his to lose.
But even if he can’t and fellow center David Andrews – who was a more consistent pass blocker than Stork last season – outperforms him and earns the starting role, Stork’s stint with the Patriots might not be over due to his experience and especially versatility. As mentioned above, Stork started games at center and right tackle last season and might also offer a viable option at guard. After all, he began his college career at the position before switching further inside.
Therefore, Stork’s odds of making New England’s 53-man roster look solid as of right now. If he really makes the team, and at which position, will ultimately depend on his own performance and what the coaching staff feels is the team's best interior lineup. One thing seems certain, though: if Stork plays like he did last training camp, when he was the Patriots’ best lineman, he will be a starter in 2016.
After an up-and-down 2015 season, Bryan Stork’s starting role and even his roster spot are not carved in proverbial stone; the 25-year old needs to earn them. Becoming a more consistent player and better pass protector should help, as should his positional versatility. If he is able to put it all together and stay healthy in the process, then Stork has a good chance of returning as a starter on New England’s interior offensive line – as the center or as one of the guards remains to be seen.