Seven years into his NFL career, James Ferentz has more Super Bowl rings (two) than starts (one) on his résumé. The first number might go up at the end of this season, the second will likely already see an increase later this week: despite the MCL sprain Ted Karras suffered last Sunday being classified as minor, there is a realistic chance that the New England Patriots’ starting center will miss the team’s upcoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ferentz is the next man up in case Karras is indeed unable to go this week, after already filling in for him during Sunday’s loss against the Houston Texans: the 30-year-old was on the field for 44 snaps, his second most this season after the 69 he played in Week 8 as a stand-in for injured right guard Shaq Mason. On both occasions, Ferentz was a serviceable replacement option — one the Patriots feel good about heading into a tough game this weekend.
“James has a lot of experience even though he doesn’t have a lot of playing time,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Ferentz during a media conference call on Tuesday. “He’s played a lot of football, he’s practiced a lot of football. He’s been with us for a long time, he knows our offense and all the things that go with it — the line calls, the cadence and so forth — extremely well. He’s one of the hardest working players on the team, is very dependable.”
After starting his career with the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos, Ferentz originally came to New England as a free agency acquisition in 2017. The son of former Belichick assistant Kirk Ferentz spent his first year with the Patriots on the practice squad, and also started year two there before getting promoted to the active roster in November. But while Ferentz appeared in only two games in 2018, his role on the team was a valuable one.
“James Ferentz, he’s gotten practice player of the week just about every week,” defensive tackle Adam Butler told Pats Pulpit ahead of Super Bowl 53 when speaking about the impact the depth-level offensive lineman had on the team’s preparation on a week-to-week basis. “He’s very good at just mimicking what our opponents do week in and week out. That gives us live-action because he’s so good at it.”
Belichick shared a similar opinion this week when talking about the former undrafted free agent: “He does a great job for us every day, and he’s backed up [David] Andrews and he’s backed up Karras, and when you put him in there in practice, it’s pretty seamless. But, he’s done a great job of helping our defense prepare for our opposing offense and their operation, cadence, snap-counts, mike-points, line-of-scrimmage communication and so forth.”
“He’s done a great job of that and has been recognized multiple times by our staff for the look he’s given us in practice and the way he’s helped our defense prepare,” Belichick continued. “Certainly gives us a lot of confidence when he goes in there that he knows what he’s doing, and we can depend on him, and that’s a very valuable thing. You hope you don’t need it, but we do now and I’m glad we have him.”
If he indeed starts Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, Ferentz will become the Patriots’ third center this season. Original starter David Andrews was placed on injured reserve before the regular season began after blood clots were discovered in his lungs, with Karras taking over for him. The 26-year-old proved to be a reliable presence up front, and went on to become the only offensive player to play 100% of the team’s offensive snaps through the first 12 weeks of the season.
This streak came to an end in the third quarter of Sunday’s game, however, when Karras’ knee was rolled up on. The injury paved the way for Ferentz, and he did a solid job in his first starting-level snaps at the position: he surrendered three quarterback hurries but appeared to work well between guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason — something he might have to do again this Sunday when going against a talented Chiefs defense.
“He communicates well on the offensive line to direct traffic as David Andrews and Ted also do, so we’re very fortunate that we have had multiple people that can do that, and that’s a key part of that position,” said Belichick about Ferentz. “Another key part is obviously you have to block somebody on every play. There’s no plays that the center’s not involved in the blocking. Whether it’s run or pass, you can’t run away from the center; he’s right in the middle of the play.”
Ultimately, Belichick had an easy but positive scouting report on his team’s third-string center: “His instincts and awareness and playing strength and experience — even though it’s not all in-game experience — are all positives.”