The New England Patriots have lost starting right guard Shaq Mason (broken hand) and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (unknown) for undetermined lengths of time. While Mason’s timetable is unknown, Vollmer is expected to go on the injured reserve (IR).
The new IR rules mean teams do not have to designate a player as “short term IR” anymore. Teams can elect to bring back any player that has spent six weeks or more on the IR. This means that Vollmer’s season will not necessarily be over if he is placed on the IR.
But this does mean that the Patriots offensive line is going to be hurting before the season even begins.
The Patriots starting offensive line is expected to be LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Josh Kline, and RT Marcus Cannon. The top back-ups are OT LaAdrian Waddle, OG Jonathan Cooper, and C Bryan Stork. Cooper is still not practicing due to a foot injury so it’s hard to rely on him at this point. Kline appeared to suffer a minor shoulder injury against the Bears, but finished the game; it’s important to note because he required shoulder surgery this offseason.
Cameron Fleming is the 4th tackle on the Patriots depth chart, although both Thuney and Stork can play the position in a pinch. I would expect the Patriots to work Stork at both guard positions in practice so he can help out at all five line positions.
Cooper has to get back as soon as possible because the guard depth is very questionable. The best option behind Cooper is probably rookie Ted Karras, which is not ideal. Tre Jackson is still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, while Chris Barker and Jon Halapio have not shown to be anything more than camp bodies.
Here is the current depth chart based on playing time.
LT: Nate Solder, LaAdrian Waddle
LG: Joe Thuney, Jonathan Cooper, Chris Barker
C: David Andrews, Bryan Stork
RG: Josh Kline, Ted Karras, Jon Halapio
RT: Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, Keavon Milton
This list assumes that Mason, Vollmer, and Jackson are unable to start the season. I do not expect Barker, Halapio, or Milton to make the team. I think it’s a coin flip between Karras and Fleming, and it’s likely decided by the status of Cooper’s foot and whether or not he’d be ready to play. Karras has been playing some center, too, but he’ll likely start practicing more at guard moving forward.
I think Bryan Stork is the big “winner” after all of this bad news because his roster spot has become more secure. The fact that he can back-up so many positions has made him more valuable to the team.
Expect the Patriots to rummage the bargain bins after roster cuts to see if any viable guards or tackles are released.