In transactions that barely moved the needle in New England, the Patriots quietly added several NFL veterans to their offensive line this offseason.
And while the starting O-line has remained largely the same — newcomer Trent Brown taking over for Nate Solder at left tackle is the only alteration — the makeup of the position group as a whole has drastically changed.
The Patriots began the 2017 preseason with six rookie offensive linemen on their roster, including four undrafted free agents. This year, they’re carrying just one: first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn.
Just look at the difference in experience among Patriots’ O-line reserves following the additions of Matt Tobin (sixth year), Luke Bowanko (sixth year), Brian Schwenke (sixth year) and Ulrick John (fifth year):
O-line reserves, 2017 preseason: 122 games of NFL experience
Cameron Fleming (35 games)
LaAdrian Waddle (33 games)
James Ferentz (21 games)
Jamil Douglas (17 games)
Ted Karras (16 games)
3rd-round pick Tony Garcia (zero games)
6th-round pick Conor McDermott (zero games)
UDFA Cole Croston (zero games)
UDFA Max Rich (zero games)
UDFA Jason King (zero games)
UDFA Andrew Jelks (zero games)
O-line reserves, 2018 preseason: 265 games of NFL experience
Matt Tobin (57 games)
Brian Schwenke (57 games)
LaAdrian Waddle (45 games)
Luke Bowanko (40 games)
Ted Karras (32 games)
James Ferentz (21 games)
Ulrick John (10 games)
Cole Croston (three games)
Jason King (zero games)
1st-round pick Isaiah Wynn (zero games)
Which of those players sticks around? We’ll have to wait and see.
Wynn is a lock, and Waddle, who started in place of injured right tackle Marcus Cannon in Thursday’s preseason-opening 26-17 win over the Washington Redskins, almost certainly will have a place on the roster. That leaves just two or three available spots for the remaining eight candidates to fight for.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick expects the competition for those spots to be fierce.
“We have some — not necessarily experienced on our team, but experienced in the league — players that have been very competitive for positions on our team,” Belichick said in a conference call Friday morning. “… We only carried eight offensive linemen last year, so there’s definitely some opportunities at that position. There’s plenty of competition both inside and outside, and we tried to give everybody a good look (Thursday) night, as we have through camp. We’ll just continue to let that play out and see how it goes.”
The only offensive linemen who did not see the field against Washington were Schwenke, King and Wynn. Schwenke and King had missed practice due to injury during the week, so their absences were expected.
Wynn’s, however, came as a surprise, as he’s been the Patriots’ second-team left tackle throughout training camp. The Georgia product dressed for the game but did not play, with Tobin relieving Brown at the start of the second half.
Tobin, Croston, John, Karras and Ferentz all played more than 50 percent of New England’s offensive snaps.
Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images