With training camp starting this week, the NFL's most quiet period is set to come to an end soon. The New England Patriots' rookies will report to camp today while veterans will return on Wednesday. One day later, the defending world champions will hold their first practice of this year's camp.
Over the next month, players have a chance to earn a spot either on the team's 53-man roster or the practice squad. Throughout the offseason, we will take a look at the men fighting for those few select spots on the 2017 Patriots to find out who will and might be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with a second-year interior offensive lineman.
Name: Ted Karras
Position: Offensive guard
Jersey number: 75
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’4, 305 lbs.
2016 review: With the final of their three sixth round selections in the 2016 NFL draft (#221), the New England Patriots selected an offensive lineman with deep NFL roots: Ted Karras, whose grandfather, father and great uncle all played in the NFL. Despite joining a crowded interior line, the youngest member of the Karras clan was able to earn one of the backup spots on the initial 53-man roster.
Originally projected as the sixth and last option at guard and center, Karras was elevated to a starting role following injuries to Shaq Mason and Jonathan Cooper as well as the release of Josh Kline. Consequently, the rookie lined up as the Patriots' starting right guard for the season opener at the Arizona Cardinals and was part of a rotation with Mason for the first two weeks of the season.
After Shaq Mason returned to his starting spot in week three, Karras was relegated to a backup role. In this capacity, the Illinois product played only a handful of snaps at guard and center the rest of the season. Karras ultimately finished his rookie campaign with a total of 109 offensive snaps played – 98 of which coming in the first two weeks, one more in the divisional playoff round.
When on the field, Karras – as expected – was a downgrade from the respective starter at whichever role he played. However, he was still a serviceable presence and was not overwhelmed by the situation; most prominently on opening day when had to start and play 80+% of snaps in a nationally televised game. Karras was able to show the team enough to be kept on the roster throughout the season and even served as the lone interior backup following the release of Jonathan Cooper.
Besides being an offensive backup, Karras was also a regular as a protector on special teams: He played 81 kicking game snaps (of 449; 18.0%) during the regular season and added 16 more (of 93; 17.2%) in the postseason. And despite only temporarily holding an offensive starting role, Karras' rookie campaign can therefore be seen as a successful one – one, that culminated in his family's second Super Bowl ring.
2017 preview: Even though a) he was the top interior backup option last season and b) the Patriots did not invest one of their four draft choices in an interior offensive lineman, Ted Karras is not lock to make the team's 2017 roster. After all, he finds himself in the middle of crowded competition for practice reps and preseason playing time – and, ultimately, surviving roster cutdowns.
The Patriots currently have five interior blockers signed behind starters and roster locks Joe Thuney, David Andrews and Shaq Mason. With New England typically not keeping more than two backups along the interior, Karras will have to beat out at least three of his fellow linemen. Judging by his 2016 campaign and the relative unpredictability of the competition, the race for a spot appears to be the 24-year old's to lose.
That being said, Karras still has to make a step forward in year two to stay on the team and beat out former fourth rounder Jamil Douglas, veteran James Ferentz as well as rookies Cole Croston and Jason King. Judging by the foundation he was able to build early last season, however, he should be able to do that and as a result return as New England's top backup along the interior offensive line.