David Andrews

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 


HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 


WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.


What they're saying: Patriots explain how they deal with the 'hype and ridiculous [expletive]'

What they're saying: Patriots explain how they deal with the 'hype and ridiculous [expletive]'

MINNEAPOLIS -- Through three episodes of the Facebook project "Tom vs. Time" that tracks Tom Brady's work and life off the field, one of the more fascinating scenes involves Brady picking through thick binders filled with notes and plans from individual seasons. Inside the 2016 binder, he pulled a sheet of paper from the point last season when the Patriots were preparing to play the Falcons in the Super Bowl.

QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Rodney Harrison, Dan Patrick, and Cris Collinsworth break down match-ups to look for on Sunday

"This is a lot of stuff that [Bill] Belichick talks about in team meetings that I write down," Brady told the camera. "These are kind of his themes. I'll read you some of them: 'Prepare and play well. The Super Bowl environment is all about hype and ridiculous bull**** that goes on.' "

He would know. He's been through enough of these.

The media crush is obviously different during Super Bowl week. Players are aware of it. The vast majority know how to handle it. Still, Patriots were asked on Tuesday how they deal with the chaotic media availability sessions and all the attention.

MORE OF WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: Eagles weigh in: Belichick-or-Brady?

"You just kind of tune it out," James White said. "You come in here to win a football game. There's all this hype around this game. Biggest game of the year and whatnot. But we can't overhype it. It's still football at the end of the day. You want to go out and put your best foot forward, have fun, and just do what you've been doing all year long."

Many Patriots continue to live by the credo "ignore the noise," and Nate Solder, who is headed to his fourth Super Bowl, counts himself among those.

"That was established by the coaches and things, but that's helped me certainly because all this other stuff, it's just white noise," Solder said. "It's just gonna take away from the true reason that we're here, and that's to win a game."

MORE PATRIOTS: Disobeying the sitter to watch Brady

"We deal with media all week during the regular week," added David Andrews. "It's not like something we deal with once a year at this time of year. But everything now is on a bigger scale. The game is obviously on a bigger scale. There's more production, things like that. We just kind of handle that. Move forward. It's gonna be good to get back here, rolling, and preparing for Philly."

The Patriots will have their first practice of the week on Wednesday. They'll do their best to fall into their routine, as they have for the first few days of their stay here, despite living in a hotel attached to a gargantuan mall.

"You can still stick to your routine," White said. "I think our staff does a great job of trying to get everything we have at our facility at the hotel so you can do the same exact things you've done before."

Here are some of the other things the Patriots were saying on Tuesday . . .

Brady on "centering himself" and meditation: "It can be challenging. Obviously my mind races a lot. There are a lot of things that I'm thinking about. For me, I've learned the car ride home is a great
time, 30 minutes of time, where I can listen to music and find a good space for me to be in for the day. Whether that's driving into work in the morning, or I can think about things I need to do, I want to do. And leaving practice, after you've expended a lot of energy, to find a good balance to deal with things at home."

Brady on the potential of getting hit by former teammate Chris Long: "I hope he doesn't hit me too hard if he gets a shot. Hopefully he respects his elders a little bit out there . . . I really enjoyed my
time with Chris. He's a helluva player and he made huge plays for us last year. He's made some great plays for the Eagles this year. They have a dominant pass rush on both edges, right up the middle, and he's a big part of that. He's a great leader, practices his butt off, great enthusiasm. I have a ton of respect for him."

Kyle Van Noy on how comforting it is to know Patriots safeties are backing him up: "It's nice. [Patrick] Chung is a Swiss Army knife. [Duron Harmon] is the sniper in the back. And [Devin McCourty] is the clean-up. I would hope no one takes them for granted because all three are phenomenal players. They deserve a lot of credit for the success of the Patriots defense of late, and they deserve a lot of credit."


Andrews had to disobey babysitter to watch Brady’s first Super Bowl

Andrews had to disobey babysitter to watch Brady’s first Super Bowl

MINNEAPOLIS -- Part of Tom Brady's job at this stage in his career is to connect with players who are often 15 years younger than he is. Or more. 

He's been open in discussing how that hasn't always been easy. His off-the-field life is vastly different than that of many of his teammates. His tastes in music and movies may stray from theirs, as well. But Brady has worked at it, and he's developed some strong relationships with teammates who were small children when Brady won his first Super Bowl back in February of 2002.

Perhaps the best illustration of Brady's ever-evolving interpersonal relationships with younger Patriots in the locker room is the one he has with his center David Andrews. The pair, due in large part to their proximity on the field, have basked together in some of the best wins in Patriots history. Andrews was one of the first to celebrate with Brady after James White scored the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl LI. Andrews was also the one jogging off the field with Brady in Pittsburgh earlier this season as Brady shouted at fans, "How 'bout that!"

Andrews explained on Tuesday that he'd spent about a week in the Patriots facilities his rookie year before Brady went out of his way to make him feel at home. For an undrafted rookie, and the backup to Bryan Stork at the time, it was a memorable introduction.  

"[Rookies] were kind of working out on our own for a week or something, I can't really remember, but I remember when the veterans started to roll back in," Andrews said. "He's walking in the hallway. I came out. Walked out of the cafeteria, and there he was. 

"He was just like, 'Hey, David. 'I'm Tom Brady.' This guy knows an undrafted rookie's name? That was a huge impression and something I'll always remember."

Andrews had watched Brady from afar for years. He was nine years old when Brady took the field at the Superdome to take on the Rams in Brady's first Super Bowl. 

"I remember the Titans-Rams game, and then I think it was the next year, Rams-Brady," Andrews said. "I think it was one of the first Super Bowls I really remember as a kid growing up. Just kinda seeing that like, 'Oh, who's this Tom Brady guy?' It just kind of snowballed from there. He became who he is now. 

"I think I had a babysitter that first Super Bowl he was in. I think [my parents] were at a party that I couldn't go to. That year the babysitter was like, 'You're going to bed.' I was like, 'Yeah, I'm gonna watch this game.' "

Sixteen years later, the 40-year-old quarterback is receiving snaps from Andrews for a chance to win his sixth Super Bowl -- his second with the 25-year-old fellow team captain who only vaguely remembers Brady's first.