Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Interior offensive line
By Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry
This is the seventh in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots by Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry as we head into the offseason. Today's position: Interior offensive line
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
End of the season notwithstanding, the interior OL positions for the Patriots are in pretty good shape right now. Center Bryan Stork will be entering his third season, and left guard Shaq Mason and right guard Tre Jackson will be going into their second seasons. You can expect all three to make the leap that comes with additional experience – especially Mason and Jackson getting a full NFL offseason. Additionally, the return of Dante Scarnecchia as line coach will presumably be a positive. Not that Dave DeGuglielmo had awful results in two seasons in charge – the team won a Super Bowl and had big success in 2015 with Mason, Jackson and undrafted rookie David Andrews subbing in for the injured Stork. But the bad days under Scarnecchia were never as bad as the bad days we saw the past two seasons under DeGuglielmo, whether it be this year’s playoff loss at Denver or early-season batterings in 2014. Ryan Wendell has an expiring contract after finishing 2015 on IR. He didn’t seem too happy about the decision to put him on the shelf when it came down. He’d be worth keeping around as depth, at the very least. And Josh Kline has quietly become a pretty effective lineman as well, although he was overmatched in the AFC Championship Game when he was at less than 100 percent. This is not a priority spot.
There are three areas I would be legitimately surprised to see the Patriots address early on in the draft or in free agency. The first would be quarterback. The second would be safety, perhaps the team's deepest position group on the roster. The third? Right here. The interior of the offensive line. While it's a group that doesn't have what might be perceived as top-end talent at the moment, it has five capable players under contract for three starting spots. And they're all young.
Let's start in the middle. There should be good competition at center in training camp between Bryan Stork and David Andrews. Stork didn't appear to be able to recapture the form he showed in his rookie season, perhaps due to a head injury that landed him on the short-term injured reserve list before the season. But in his absence, Andrews started every game and the Patriots went undefeated. While Andrews may be the more athletic of the two, Stork has the size advantage and the pedigree of being a fourth-round selection. Andrews went undrafted out of Georgia last year. Either way, the Patriots seem set at this spot.
Then at guard they have two more promising rookies in Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason. Bill Belichick called Mason one of the most athletic offensive linemen he's ever coached. Then there's Josh Kline, who dealt with a shoulder injury from Week 13 on, but before that point was perhaps the team's most consistent blocker. The team so appreciated his work that it handed him a two-year extension mid-season. And don't forget about Ryan Wendell, who has made a career of stepping in and stepping up when few expected him to. A knee issue landed him on season-ending injured reserve last season. He's scheduled to become a free agent, but the Patriots could benefit from his veteran presence should they opt to bring him back.