In not even 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 guard Shaq Mason.
Name: Shaq Mason
Jersey number: 69
Size: 6’1, 310 lbs.
2015 review: The Patriots selected Mason in the fourth round of last year’s draft (pick 131) and the Georgia Tech product was quickly able to establish himself as a key member of New England’s offensive line. He began his professional career as a rotational player at left guard but switched to the right side, where he ultimately became the starter, during the playoffs.
Overall, Mason appeared in 16 of the Patriots’ 18 games last year – missing weeks 7 and 8 because of a knee injury – and played 69.6% of the team’s offensive snaps (872 of 1,253). Just like he had been at Georgia Tech, Mason was a very good run blocker his rookie season and displayed outstanding athleticism and moving abilities (particularly visible on pull-blocks) in the process.
While Mason was clearly not as effective as a pass protector and finished the season with 31 pressures given up (4 sacks, 13 hits, 14 hurries), he showed steady improvement over the course of the season. He still has a lot of room for growth but the first steps he has taken look encouraging, especially considering how raw he was as a pass blocker coming out of college.
2016 preview: The Patriots tried to upgrade their interior offensive line this offseason – via the draft and via trading for Jonathan Cooper –, but no member of the unit currently under contract, except third round rookie Joe Thuney, can be considered a surefire roster lock. That being said, Mason is a close second when it comes to the odds of making the team.
Not only that but the 22-year old will also once again be in the conversation for a starting role. If he can continue his growth and become a more complete lineman, it would not be a surprise to see him win a spot on New England’s number one offensive line, likely the one on the right side. After all, he looked most comfortable last season when he lined up as the Patriots’ right guard.
Mason has already proven that he can be a quality starting guard when it comes to run blocking, so his major focus this summer has to be on improving his pass protecting technique. If he can do that with the help of new offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, then Mason has a good chance to become New England’s starting right guard of the foreseeable future.
Shaq Mason played some solid football last year and visibly became better as the season went along. If he is able to continue on this upwards trajectory, a starting spot seems to be his to lose.