In one week, the New England Patriots will return to the practice fields for the start of their 2016 training camp. The battles for spots on the team will then officially enter the next round as 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 offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle.
Name: LaAdrian Waddle
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 68
Size: 6’6, 315 lbs.
2015 review: Despite undergoing knee surgery during the 2015 offseason, Waddle did make the Detroit Lions’ 53-man roster. However, he was unable to earn a starting role and thus began his third year in the league as a backup. Consequently, he saw only limited playing time and after struggling with consistency and injuries, the Lions released Waddle in mid-December. He appeared in eight games for the team in 2015.
One day after his release, the Patriots claimed Waddle on the waiver wire. He was inactive for his first game but saw considerable playing time in week 16 against the New York Jets: he played 37 snaps at left tackle in place of injured Sebastian Vollmer. Waddle struggled against one of the NFL’s best defensive lines and in a position he was not used to – the Lions played him exclusively on the right side – and as a result gave up five pressures (one hit, four hurries).
Waddle did not see any snaps the following week and was inactive during New England’s playoff run. But even though he was not able to stand out during his few weeks in Foxboro, he signed a two-year, $2.4 million contract with the Patriots in March.
2016 preview: The Patriots’ offensive tackles struggled in 2015 but the team did not address the position this offseason (while the team drafted college tackle Joe Thuney, it views him as an interior lineman). This means that Waddle has a realistic shot at earning a spot on the team’s 53-man roster.
With Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer the projected starters, Waddle has to compete against three players – Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Keavon Milton – to earn one of a maximum of two backup tackle spots on the team. As of right now, both Fleming and Milton seem to be behind Waddle on the depth chart, so it looks as if the 25-year old’s major competition will come from Cannon.
Both Waddle and Cannon had their fair share of issues last season and will try to bounce back under new offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The quicker Waddle adapts to Scarnecchia’s scheme and coaching, and the quicker he improves his technique and versatility, the better his chances of becoming New England’s top backup swing-tackle this season.
Right now, this distinction still belongs to Cannon, who had the best years of his career with Scarnecchia as his coach. However, given that Waddle’s cap hit is roughly $3.7 million lower, his chances of beating out the veteran do not look bad – at least if he is able to improve as a player over the next few weeks.
LaAdrian Waddle showed a lot of promise his rookie season but was unable to build on it in 2014 and 2015. If he can bounce back this summer and under the tutelage of the NFL’s premier offensive line coach, he has a good shot at making the team and showing why it rewarded him with a new deal four months ago.