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Michael Onwenu, Bill Belichick share insight on positional switch to right tackle

Onwenu played right tackle for the first time since 2021.

NFL: OCT 22 Bills at Patriots Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Prior to the New England Patriots Week 7 game against the Buffalo Bills, Bill Belichick proclaimed the Bills’ pass rush as the best in football. Quarterback Mac Jones agreed.

Yet, when the two matched up on Sunday, Jones was under pressure on just 21.9 percent of the time — a season best.

The key to keeping Jones upright against Buffalo was a change at the right tackle position. After New England rotated through several bodies early in the season — and throughout training camp — last week’s loss to Las Vegas was the final straw for them to move guard Michael Onwenu back outside to tackle.

“There were a number of things involved but had a good conversation with Mike after the Raider game and ultimately I think everyone thought that was the best thing for us to do at this time,” Belichick said Monday. “Went with it, had a good week. I thought he did a good job for us.”

Onwenu had not played tackle since the 2021 season where he played both left guard and right tackle. The former sixth-round pick also had plenty of success at tackle during his rookie year in 2020 when injuries forced New England’s hand to use him outside.

“Smart kid that understands all the different positions on the offensive line,” Belichick said. “Pretty good fundamental player and obviously has good strength.”

Despite not playing the position in over a year, and also not playing at all last week due to injury, Onwenu looked at home in his first game back allowing just one pressure.

“There were some good things but there are always things that can be better,” Onwenu said. “Some of the run plays a couple of linebackers were unblocked, but good thing we were on our double teams. But, there’s always things to improve.”

After the strong performance at right tackle, it would be surprising if New England moved away from the set up. Prior to Onwenu, the Patriots right tackle spot surrendered 33 pressures in the first six games. Onwenu, however, will continue to line up wherever he’s told.

“I don’t choose where I play,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m told were I’m at, or I can be, or will be. So we’ll just see where that happens to be.

“I’m kind of indifferent,” he added about the switch. “I’ve played the position before. So it’s just about adjusting and then going week-to-week with the team that we’re playing. Nothing specific, more so just getting the reps that I need or just getting the looks that I need in practice to feel comfortable to play there on the outside.

Beyond moving Onwenu out to tackle, New England’s front also benefitted from the return of second-year guard Cole Strange and improved play from rookie Sidy Sow at right guard — with the latter joining Onwenu with just one pressure allowed.

“He kind of reminds me of me, like as a guard,” Onwenu said of Sow. “I watched his tape at Eastern [Michigan], but he’s an athletic player and he has a lot of bright games and a bright future ahead of him. Very smart player as well.”

It’s not a coincidence that the best game from the offensive line also resulted in the quarterback’s best game of the season in which he led his first career game-winning drive to help pull off the 29-25 upset.

“The offensive line’s play today is what really stood out to me. They made everything work; run game, passing game,” Jones said post game. “Just gave me the time I needed today. And when I have time, I can read the offense how we’re supposed to and I really appreciate those guys.”

With the improved play, it should be expected that New England will continue to roll with the same starting five next week against Miami, which would mark just the second time all season they've had the same starting configuration two weeks in a row.

“I think everyone was playing together,” Onwenu said of their performance Sunday. “Obviously the past few games we’ve had a few adjustments to who’s been in, who’s been out, but just so far as this last game, like everyone was playing for each other and everyone, like, played off of each other.

“There was a lot of communication. We were blitzed a lot. So we all were trying to help each other out and let the guy next to us see what was going on or just give him a heads up.”