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Patriots might start 5th different offensive line combination of the season on Sunday

Related: James Ferentz reverts to Patriots’ practice squad following Week 6 start at left guard

New England Patriots Vs. New York Jets at MetLife Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

When it comes to offensive line play in the NFL, stability is key. Unfortunately, the New England Patriots have not had a lot of it in 2021. In fact, there is a realistic chance that they will start their fifth different lineup against the New York Jets this Sunday.

In case you forgot, the game will be the Patriots’ seventh of the season. Needless to say that stability has not been on the menu for the club so far, and the group’s performances have looked the part.

Just a few short weeks ago, New England was in an entirely different position.

Heading into the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, the units was projected as one of the best in the league. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason were all established starters at their respective positions, with left guard Michael Onwenu and free agency addition Trent Brown at right tackle filling the other two spots.

Seven snaps into the game against Miami, however, Brown injured his calf. On Sunday, he will miss his sixth straight game after being placed on injured reserve earlier this month.

Brown’s loss created a hole at right tackle the Patriots have yet to properly fill. On Sunday, the expectation is that it is Onwenu’s turn to try doing that. He will be the fifth player to start a game at right tackle for New England this season.

In total, the Patriots have employed 10 different starting O-linemen through six weeks — the highest number in the league:

Patriots starting offensive line: Weeks 1-6

Game Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
Game Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
vs Dolphins Isaiah Wynn Michael Onwenu David Andrews Shaq Mason Trent Brown
at Jets Isaiah Wynn Michael Onwenu David Andrews Shaq Mason Yasir Durant
vs Saints Isaiah Wynn Michael Onwenu David Andrews Shaq Mason Justin Herron
vs Buccaneers Isaiah Wynn Michael Onwenu David Andrews Shaq Mason Justin Herron
at Texans Justin Herron James Ferentz David Andrews Ted Karras Yodny Cajuste
vs Cowboys Justin Herron James Ferentz David Andrews Ted Karras Yodny Cajuste

While right tackle has been the biggest issue in terms of consistency, New England has actually seen turnover at every offensive line position this year with the exception of David Andrews’ center spot. Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu missed time on the Covid-19 list; Shaq Mason sat out the last two games due to an abdominal injury; Yasir Durant, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, James Ferentz and Ted Karras were all added to the lineup as stand-ins.

While four of the nominal starters should be good to go against the New York Jets this week — Wynn, Andrews, Mason, Onwenu — the team will likely use the following lineup. As noted above, it will already be the fifth different starting combo this year:

Patriots projected starting offensive line: Week 7

Game Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
Game Left tackle Left guard Center Right guard Right tackle
vs Jets Isaiah Wynn Ted Karras David Andrews Shaq Mason Michael Onwenu

Wynn, Andrews and Mason are expected to fill their usual spots up front, but Karras and Onwenu will be moved around. The former will switch from the right to the left guard position — one he already played for 26 snaps against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4 — while the latter will switch to the right tackle spot.

Despite opening the season as New England’s starting left guard, right tackle is not an entirely new position for Onwenu. The former sixth-round draft choice played it extensively during his 2020 rookie season, starting a total of 10 games there.

But while his experience should help make that transition, it is still a challenge as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pointed out this week.

“For Mike to be able to go from guard to tackle and play on opposite sides of the football, that’s not a seamless transition. Some of the same terms that meant something to you at right tackle would mean a completely different thing to you at left guard,” he said.

“There’s a mental tax to that and there’s a repetition portion of practice that is really necessary. I give these guys a ton of credit, because getting ready to play multiple spots on the offensive line in the same week, especially when you’re on an opposite side of the football, that’s a chore.”

Whether or not Onwenu will be up for it remains to be seen, but the 23-year-old has proven himself a reliable blocker regardless of where he is asked to play.

“Mike’s one of our best offensive linemen,” head coach Bill Belichick said about him earlier this week. “I thought he stepped in there [against Dallas], and we did what we felt was best for us in that game. I thought he gave us great effort.”

As for the man himself, he downplayed the move from the left guard position to right tackle. Onwenu referred to the same concepts being run regardless of where he would line up, and that technique remains important at either spot.

“We’re running the same plays. We’re being taught the same things,” he said. “Whatever position you’re in you have to do your job. That’s what it comes down to.”

Through six games, the Patriots’ offensive line has not been able to consistently do its job. The personnel instability has played a big role in this, and as this week’s changes show the team is not over it just yet. That said, a Wynn-Karras-Andrews-Mason-Onwenu lineup appears to be as solid a group as the club can field at the moment.

The question becomes whether or not it will be enough to help the offense improve, and if we will see some positive results as early as this week.