The most important competition this training camp has taken place between third-year center Bryan Stork and second-year center David Andrews. Both are competing for the starting job.
Andrews might have just won it.
Stork was ejected from practice on Tuesday for fighting, which The Herald’s Jeff Howe notes on his podcast Locked On Patriots that this is the second time Stork has been kicked out of practice for fighting this offseason: once in the spring after tussling with rookie defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton, and now again versus the Bears. Stork has an issue with his temper that has impacted the Patriots both on and off the field.
“It’s a pattern where the coaching staff has to wonder alright where’s your focus at?,” Howe notes. “The injuries are one thing, you can’t always control those, especially a guy who is playing center and has a concussion history...which is unfortunate, but that’s how those head injuries go. They’re so unpredictable. But the stuff you can control is how you handle yourself on the field.”
Howe notes that the two had been sharing first team reps in practice until Stork left with a concussion. Since that moment, Andrews has seen all the first team reps and hasn’t looked back.
In Thursday’s game against the Patriots pulled Andrews in favor of Stork after the former missed a block that led to a sack, but put Andrews back in after Stork was “inconsistent.”
I think that Andrews has a firm grasp on that first team center spot, and Belichick has been saying positive things about Andrews in recent weeks.
“David played a lot of football for us last year, smart kid, very football savvy,” Belichick said on August 1st. “He's got good instincts for the position. You know, I think he built on last years' experience, he saw that in the spring. He's always got good command, but I'd say he's got more command, more confidence, maybe sees things just a little fraction of a second quicker because he anticipates it more and has seen it more.”
Andrews could benefit from putting on more weight and being a little stronger, but he’s on the right track after winning a strength and conditioning award this offseason. Belichick just notes that Andrews looks a lot better now than he did last season.
“Just [Andrew’s] second year, a lot more experience, and confidence, and quicker reactions, and calls on the line of scrimmage than he did last year,” Belichick repeated on Tuesday. “Not that it was bad last year, it was good. It was really good for a rookie but it's even better this year. He just has more experience and I'd say more confidence. We do some things with the cadence and he does a real good job with that as well. There are a lot of things that he has added to his game, little things, but those add up. He's done a good job.”
Andrews is reacting to defensive moves a little bit faster this year, which likely stems from his experience on the field last year, and he’s more in control of the offensive line.
The word “control” might be key, too. Stork loses control too much for Belichick’s liking. Part of his wildness is endearing and the Patriots love having an enforcer on the line, but there is a line to toe and Stork has crossed it multiple times.
Andrews, on the other hand, has always been available and he has been consistent when on the field. He is not without flaws, but at least the coaching staff can prepare for his inability to hold his ground against bigger nose tackles.
Camp is far from over and injuries do happen, but I think at this point we can comfortably say that Andrews is in the driver’s seat for the starting center job.