Patriots Still See Prominent Role For Mike Onwenu With Trent Brown Back

Onwenu played less than 40% of the Patriots' offensive snaps in Week 10

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November 17, 2021

As offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained it Wednesday, the New England Patriots’ decision to remove Mike Onwenu from their starting lineup was a practical one.

Onwenu had started the previous three games at right tackle in place of an injured Trent Brown. With Brown healthy enough to return Sunday against the Cleveland Browns but not yet ready for a full workload, the Patriots opted to bump Onwenu into a reserve role rather than shift him back to left guard, where he played to begin the season.

“We knew Trent was coming back and we were going to manage that situation, which we did, and Michael played right tackle,” McDaniels explained in a video conference. “We knew we weren’t going to play Trent wire to wire, which we didn’t, and Mike was obviously going to be in there at right tackle. He was ready to go inside, as well.

“But he was going to play. We knew all six of (the top O-linemen) were going to play. He also played some snaps at tight end for us.”

If the Patriots planned to use Onwenu to spell Brown, then starting him at left guard would have required two in-game changes rather than one, with Ownenu shifting positions and a new guard entering. Sticking with Ted Karras at left guard simplified this substitution process.

Ownenu wound up playing the Patriots’ final series of the first half and reentering in garbage time. The 2020 sixth-round draft pick played 26 of New England’s 67 offensive snaps — including a handful as a jumbo tight end — to Brown’s 46 in the team’s 45-7 win over Cleveland.

It will be interesting, then, to see how the Patriots handle their O-line when Brown is back to full strength. Will they continue rotating Brown and Onwenu to keep their 6-foot-8 starter fresh? Will they boot Karras — who’s played well since joining the starting lineup in Week 5 — and move Onwenu back to guard?

Whichever path they choose, McDaniels said Onwenu will remain involved. The 23-year-old is the highest-graded Patriots player by Pro Football Focus this season and is the NFL’s fifth-highest-graded run blocker among those with at least 100 run-blocking snaps.

“We’ll make those decisions week to week as we go through the rest of the year about what’s best based on the health and availability of the guys we have, but we feel confident in all those guys,” McDaniels said. “Mike’s a great guy, unselfish, understood his role last week, and he’ll obviously be a factor for us as we go forward.”

The Patriots will go for their fifth straight win Thursday night when they visit the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images
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