Sebastian Vollmer has been a major part to the Patriots offensive line this season. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
For the majority of the season it’s been a whole lot of mixing and matching for the Patriots on their offensive line.
Nate Solder was lost for the season with torn triceps. Bryan Stork didn’t play in the first seven games because he was on injured reserve designated for return. Marcus Cannon missed a number of games with a toe injury. And finally, Sebastian Vollmer missed a game with a concussion.
For the first time all season Monday night, the Patriots were relatively healthy up front, with the exception of Solder and Tre’ Jackson missing the game with a knee injury.
While the Patriots continued with their trademark rotation — using four combinations over their 13 drives — they seemed to settle on one that worked.
On nine of the 13 drives, New England’s line went (from left to right): Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, Bryan Stork, Josh Kline and Sebastian Vollmer.
Two things that stood out were Stork and Vollmer didn’t start the game, but played major roles and center David Andrews appeared to get phased out during the game.
Cameron Fleming started at right tackle on the first drive, but didn’t play the rest of the game (besides one play as an extra tackle.) Andrews centered the first two drives, but on 10 of the final 11 it was Stork. The lone exception was the eighth drive of the game when Andrews played center and Stork slid over to right guard.
“Well, we played all seven players on the offensive line, all three tackles and all four inside guys,” Bill Belichick said. “Stork is still working his way back from the time he missed in training camp and the early part of the season, so trying to work him back in there some, too, along with David and Shaq [Mason] and Josh [Kline]. At some point Tre’ Jackson, whenever that happens, whenever he’s ready, we’ll see how that goes.”
The offensive line as a group are prepared for the rotation and don’t look at it as a competition between themselves, rather the way Patriots do business looking at every player the same way.
“You just know it could happen and you have to be prepared,” Kline said. “Everyone just knows they could switch positions at any time if there number is called. You just have to be ready.”
Moving forward, it’s possible the Patriots could switch Vollmer to left tackle to give Tom Brady more protection for his backside, but that would force Vollmer away from his normal right tackle spot, although he has done it when asked in the past.
While eventually the Patriots will likely settle on five players that work best up front (like they did last year on the way to winning the Super Bowl), finally getting almost back to full strength Monday was a major step in that direction.
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