The Patriots have used 10 different offensive line combinations through three games this season. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick is at it again.
Normally teams stick with the same five offensive linemen, sometimes mixing in a sixth here and there, but through the Patriots’ first three games they have seen seven offensive linemen play 44 percent or more of the offensive snaps.
Going even deeper, they’ve used 10 different line combinations over the 223 total offensive snaps and didn’t use the same combination on back-to-back drives in last Sunday’s blowout win over the Jaguars.
Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, who has coached offensive lines with the Giants, Dolphins and Jets before coming to the Patriots last season, acknowledged the approach of playing so many players is different, but a credit to Belichick as it has worked.
“Most of the time you don’t do it, but again, it’s a credit to Bill kind of setting things up in a way he wants to use multiple personnel groupings and multiple linemen and Josh [McDaniels] has put together kind of a unique package, if you will, of our tempo offense where it could be anyone any time, ” DeGuglielmo said Monday. “It forces a defense to really be aware. I know we get the call upstairs to tell us who comes in defensively before every snap. I can imagine their guy upstairs, he’s probably having a difficult time which personnel grouping we’re in because there’s people going in and out.”
There have been two starting offensive line groupings this season in (from left to right) Nate Solder, Josh Kline, David Andrews, Tre Jackson and Sebastian Vollmer in Weeks 1 and 3 and then Week 2 had Shaq Mason at left guard and Josh Kline at right guard with Jackson sitting.
Andrews leads the group playing 100 percent of the offensive snaps. Solder is next at 90 percent, followed by Kline at 85 percent, who even played all 82 snaps in Buffalo. Vollmer is next at 73 percent and the two drafted rookies — Mason and Jackson — right behind at 67 and 48 percent respectively. Finally, tackle Marcus Cannon has played 44 percent in a substitute tackle role.
Some may say this is a way to manage the players’ reps early in the season, but DeGuglielmo says it is by design with the personnel they have.
“I don’t think we’ve looked at it as managing those guys at all,” he said. “They really didn’t have to be managed at this point. It’s still early in the year. I think when you look at last year, we were able to get a near complete season out of Sebastian because we had three tackles rotating through quite a bit of the year. Marcus [Cannon] is a capable linemen and he needs an opportunity to go in there and work on his techniques against a live defense, not a show team. If you have three tackles you play three tackles. If you have three guards you play three guards. If I had three centers, I don’t know if we’d go that way, we’d probably play three centers.
“That’s just part of how, since I’ve been here, part of how it’s been done. I don’t know any different. We rotate guys in and guys are expected to perform. Our players are very used to it.”
Even more impressive is within the seven linemen getting extensive reps, three rookies are heavily involved, especially with undrafted free agent Andrews being the only player on the entire team to play every offensive snap.
Mason and Jackson have also seen a number of snaps and both have started games. Belichick said they’ve put the time in since they were drafted and are continuing to get better.
“I mean they’ve had more reps than anybody at any position,” he said. “Literally, they haven’t missed a day. They took a ton of snaps in the spring, a ton of snaps in training camp, had a lot of snaps in practice. Wendy [Ryan Wendell] has only been able to practice a very limited amount for us, but he’s been on the roster since the start of the season — I mean, forget about training camp.
“So, those guys took a lot of snaps just due to our lack of depth in there. Chris Barker was out for a while. They played all the preseason games, played quite a bit in all of them, and they keep getting better with more reps and more experience in there. But they’ve taken a lot of snaps. I can’t imagine anybody’s taken more than what those guys have. The volume is high.”
Whether or not the rotation of seven players consistently continues for the remainder of the season isn’t clear at this point, but the Patriots are finding out they have plenty of solid options to protect Tom Brady.
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