Joe Thuney established himself as the New England Patriots’ starting left guard almost immediately after arriving in Foxboro for the first time last summer.
Don’t expect Antonio Garcia or Conor McDermott to follow suit this year.
Unlike Thuney, who quickly secured a starting spot after the Patriots selected him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Garcia and McDermott weren’t drafted to fill an immediate need. After all, both play tackle, and Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon held down that position with aplomb last season.
Thuney, Solder and Cannon all return this year, as will center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason, top interior O-line backup Ted Karras and third tackle Cameron Fleming. Even reserve tackle LaAdrian Waddle still is kicking around, though he’ll have a tough time beating out Garcia and/or McDermott for a roster spot.
To put it in simpler terms, every offensive lineman who played even a single snap for the Patriots last season remains under contract through the upcoming campaign. And given how well that unit performed in 2016, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia don’t have a ton of incentive to switch things up.
So what can we expect from Garcia (85th overall pick this year) and Conor McDermott (211th) as NFL rookies? Well, Garcia is a lock to make the roster. McDermott? Not so much. The 6-foot-8 UCLA prospect is not as far along in his development as Garcia, making it more likely he’ll begin his Patriots career on the practice squad.
As for Garcia, the Patriots might be hoping he can back up Solder and Cannon while also seeing time as a third tight end in jumbo sets — the role Fleming played for much of 2016. If he can’t do that, New England could keep Fleming and use Garcia as a Waddle-esque depth player while he adjusts to the pro game.
Garcia was excellent in pass protection at Troy — he didn’t allow a single sack during his senior season — but needs to put on some weight and this offseason to deal with the bigger, more physical pass rushers at the NFL level. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighed in at just 302 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, which would make him New England’s second-lightest O-lineman behind Andrews.
Also competing for roster spots on the O-line this summer will be 2016 practice-squadders Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris and Chris Barker and 2017 undrafted free agents Max Rich, Cole Croston, Jason King and Andrew Jelks.
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