Patriots Mailbag: What Might Patchwork O-Line Look Like Vs. Texans?

Plus: Should the Patriots shake things up at running back?


Oct 8, 2021

Thought we’d get a slow week of New England Patriots news after the insanity that preceded Tom Brady’s return? Quite the opposite, actually.

The days that followed Patriots-Bucs featured:

— The trading of Stephon Gilmore
— The return of Jamie Collins
— The complete disintegration of the Patriots’ already-struggling offensive line

We tackle the fallout from all of those developments in this week’s Patriots mailbag.

If all 4 of the starters who were out of practice yesterday can’t play Sunday, what does the o-line look like?

A big ol’ mess. The Patriots are faced with the real possibility of replacing four-fifths of their starting offensive line after left tackle Isaiah Wynn, left guard Mike Onwenu, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Trent Brown all missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. (UPDATE: All four missed practice again Friday.)

Wynn and Onwenu are on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the first Patriots players to land on that list since the season began. It’s possible one or both could be reactivated before Sunday, but as of Thursday night, both remained in COVID protocol. Mason (abdomen) and Brown (calf) missed practice due to injuries, per the team. Brown hasn’t played since the opening series of Week 1 but practiced on a limited basis throughout Weeks 3 and 4.

But back to your question: Who slots in if all four of these players can’t go Sunday against the Houston Texans?

You’d have center David Andrews, of course. He’s the only starter who hasn’t been sidelined this week. Ted Karras at one guard spot. Probably an elevated practice squadder (James Ferentz or Alex Redmond) at the other, unless the Patriots want to put Yasir Durant there. Durant started one game at right guard for Kansas City last year and played both guard spots for the Chiefs this preseason.

At tackle, the Patriots have three options for two spots: Justin Herron, Durant and Yodny Cajuste. All three have left tackle experience, with Herron and Cajuste playing there extensively this preseason. Durant has not played a snap at left tackle since his final season at Missouri in 2019. He and Herron both have struggled in relief of Brown at right tackle through four games.

Cajuste is the biggest mystery of this group, as he has yet to play a single regular-season offensive snap since being drafted in the third round in 2019.

Here are a few potential quadruple-replacement combinations:





New England’s O-line was in rough shape even before this rash of injuries and COVID issues. The Patriots have struggled to keep rookie quarterback Mac Jones upright this season — he’s taken close to a dozen hits in each of the last two games — and their rushing attack, expected to be a strength of the team, ranks among the NFL’s least effective.

The Patriots are lucky this game is against the lowly Texans.

What would it take to get Coach Scarnecchia to come back out of retirement again to coach up this OL?
I don’t know if Dante Scarnecchia has any interest in unretiring a second time, but the Patriots sure could use him. His old unit has struggled under the direction of Carmen Bricillo, who’s coaching an NFL position group solo for the first time in his career. (Bricillo and Cole Popovich were co-O-line coaches last season before Povovich left the team, reportedly over a COVID vaccine dispute.)

When will we see Malcolm Perry practice?
Perry is eligible to return from injured reserve, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots made this a pseudo-redshirt year for him. He’s still relatively new to the wide receiver position after starring as an option quarterback at Navy, and I can’t see him taking snaps away from any of New England’s top three wideout options (Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne). The Patriots might tell Perry to just sit back and learn this season, saving a roster spot and giving the second-year pro additional time to develop with the hope of him competing for a role in 2022.

What role is Nkeal in the offense? Bourne and Meyers have been outstanding, Agholor can’t be buried with all the money they paid, TEs will always be involved, so how does he slot back in with all that and be effective, I think Mac can unlock him, I’m just not sure how he gets in.
Harry basically took over the offensive snaps that had been going to Gunner Olszewski, playing a total of 15 snaps last week after coming off IR. He caught one pass on one target for 10 yards and also drew a defensive pass interference penalty. It was a quiet debut for the 2019 first-rounder.

Moving forward, I do think Harry’s skill set could be advantageous in red-zone opportunities, but I don’t see him becoming anything more than a complementary piece until he proves he can contribute on a consistent basis. Right now, I’d put him sixth in the pass-catcher totem pole behind the top three receivers and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

can zack cox play on the offensive line?

I don’t think any of you want to see that.

Where is Stephenson as the running game slots to nowhere?

I was a little surprised Rhamondre Stevenson couldn’t crack the gameday roster last week even with James White lost for the season. He’s been doghoused every since he lost a fumble and blew a blitz pickup in Week 1, sitting out each of the last three games as a healthy scratch.

That benching made sense at the time, but J.J. Taylor hasn’t provided much reason for optimism in Stevenson’s stead. Taylor has just 5 yards on four carries and 3 yards on two receptions across his 19 snaps of offensive action this season, and his second-half fumble against Tampa Bay took at least three points off the board.

I’d give Stevenson another shot this Sunday.

Do you think with all of the acquisitions on offense last offseason that BB will focus on a rebuild on defense next offseason? Either through the draft or FA? Getting long in the tooth on defense.

I don’t totally agree with your characterization there. The Patriots made more additions on defense than on offense this past offseason, from Matt Judon to Kyle Van Noy to Jalen Mills to Davon Godchaux to Christian Barmore.

That said, the Patriots will need to address some key defensive positions in 2022, most notably cornerback. Gilmore is gone, J.C. Jackson is set to hit unrestricted free agency, and the team doesn’t have much promising young talent in that position group. The Patriots also might need to replace several key veterans at other spots after this season, as linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley and safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips all are impending UFAs.

It seems like Hightower has been a non factor so far. Does the tape say the same thing? And if so, is that just rust from missing a whole season?

The Patriots definitely seem to be managing Hightower’s workload as he returns from his 2020 opt-out. He played just 68 percent of defensive snaps in Week 3 and 69 percent in Week 4, despite fellow inside ‘backer Bentley sitting out the latter with an injury.

Outside of Judon, who’s been fantastic thus far, New England’s linebacking corps hasn’t been as impactful as expected after its offseason overhaul. Bentley, Van Noy and Josh Uche all have missed games, Hightower still is working his way back, and the group overall just lacks speed and explosiveness. There’s a reason the Patriots felt the need to call up Collins. We’ll see how he fits back in if he’s active on Sunday.

Thumbnail photo via Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports Images
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