Quinn Ojinnaka’s Versatility May Earn the O-Lineman a Roster Spot in New England

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Quinn Ojinnaka was brought to New England for depth purposes, not as a potential replacement for Logan Mankins.

The Patriots acquired Ojinnaka from the Falcons this week in exchange for an undisclosed draft pick, which is likely conditional on playing time and will reportedly work out to be a very low pick if he makes the team.

Ojinnaka, who is 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, is versatile enough to play both guard and tackle positions. The fifth-year offensive lineman has seen game action at left tackle and right guard, and he took the majority of his practice snaps Tuesday at right tackle, which has turned into a position of need on the second unit.

"That's one thing I pride myself on," Ojinnaka said. "When I'm studying the playbook, I'm not only looking at one position, but studying all five. So if my name was ever called, at least I know what I'm doing. I think I'm pretty versatile, and that should help the Patriots this year."

New England's starting line is set for now, with Matt Light, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Sebastian Vollmer working from left to right.

The backups are still a bit frayed, though. Guys like Ryan Wendell (left guard, center, right guard) and George Bussey (left tackle) have emerged into their roles, but there are other question marks, particularly at right tackle, where Mark LeVoir and rookie Thomas Welch have struggled.

This will give Ojinnaka a chance to step in and make an impact, and it seems likely he'll be the first right tackle off the bench Thursday when the Patriots play the Rams at Gillette Stadium. If Ojinnaka can find his role at right tackle, it will help soothe the pain left by Nick Kaczur's injury.

Yes, Kaczur had been working as the starting left guard, but if Vollmer suffered an injury — or Light went down, resulting on Vollmer swinging to the left side — it's a good bet Kaczur would have moved to right tackle and Connolly would have taken over at left guard. That's the type of snowball effect that has been created by Mankins' contract situation.

Ojinnaka has been suspended by the NFL for the first game of the season due to a May 2009 domestic dispute, so his services as a reserve lineman will be put on hold until Week 2. For now, it's all about learning the new terminology, and if Ojinnaka can prove to be a capable player over the next week and a half, he'll have a spot with the Patriots.

Due to the Falcons' youth movement with their reserve linemen, Ojinnaka might have been the odd man out in Atlanta, so he's just grateful for a new opportunity prior to the Sept. 4 cut-down date.

"I was totally surprised," Ojinnaka said about the trade. "I was getting ready to go to sleep and get ready for practice in the morning with the Falcons, and I heard the news. I was shocked at first, but when I realized where I was coming to, I mean, I was real excited after that."

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