The New England Patriots offensive line struggled in 2015, so head coach Bill Belichick decided to add three new interior linemen in 2013 1st round pick Jonathan Cooper, 2016 3rd round pick Joe Thuney, and 2016 6th round pick Ted Karras.
Thuney is the starting left guard, while Cooper is competing for time as the starting right guard. But we shouldn’t forget about Karras- he made the team for a reason.
“Ted has played all three of the inside positions and he gives us a degree of versatility in there that several of the players that we had on the roster last year...we really didn't have that with,” Belichick said in Monday’s press conference. “David Andrews and Bryan Stork were basically centers and Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason were basically guards. I know we acquired Jonathan Cooper. He has really only played guard, plus obviously he has missed part of the preseason.”
While Belichick doesn’t talk about the versatility of Josh Kline, he makes an interesting point. The Patriots value positional versatility because it improves the depth on the roster without needing an extra player. The fact that Karras can play both guard spots and center makes him a valuable option on the line.
Fellow rookie Joe Thuney offers more versatility since he can play all five offensive line positions, but the coaching staff wants him to focus purely on left guard. This opens the door for Karras to try out other positions to show he can help the team.
“Ted gives us some versatility in there,” Belichick added. “He's strong, he's a very smart kid, and works extremely hard, so just a lot of things to like about him in terms of his work ethic, his toughness, and how he prepares.”
Karras is likely behind Thuney, Cooper, Kline, and Shaq Mason at guard, and behind David Andrews and Kline at center, so he has a long way to go before he’ll be a contributor. It’s likely that he’s sticking around until Cooper (foot) and Mason (hand) are ready to take the field- but it would appear like he’s a coaching staff favorite and could wind up on the practice squad if the Patriots need the active roster spot.
Karras looked overpowered when he lined up with the first team line against the Panthers, but he’s still growing as a player. The coaching staff wanted to keep him over the likes of center Bryan Stork, and prioritized Karras over players at other positions.
It’s likely that Karras won’t contribute much this year- but it would appear that the Patriots have another offensive lineman they believe can succeed.