FOXBORO — The New England Patriots offensive line will be among the most watched, and potentially most scrutinized areas of the roster heading into the upcoming 2022 NFL season.
In the wake of losing starting left guard Ted Karras (via free agency) and starting right guard Shaq Mason (through a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), the Pats face several questions surrounding the unit whose primary duty will be to provide protection for Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
In addition to their personnel losses, the team will also be without the services of former offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, who will be joining Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas. As such, the line’s coaching duties are expected to fall upon longtime Bill Belichick assistant, Matt Patricia.
Led by team captain David Andrews, the Pats offensive line is expected to include tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn, veteran guard Michael Onwenu and rookie guard Cole Strange within the starting lineup.
With the first Patriots set to report for training camp in less than two weeks, here are three players that might catch a ‘sharp eye’ along the Patriots offensive line.
For some, the 29th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft was a steep price to be paid for Strange’s services. After all, most draft analysts and mock draft enthusiasts had saddled him with a late third-round grade, at best. However, New England clearly had high hopes for the Chattanooga product.
Strange is a tenacious run-blocker with the quickness to generate sudden impact on power runs. He has also displayed an ability to seal defenders on zone runs. He has outstanding upper-body strength, as well as the large hands necessary to grasp defenders in pass protection. In addition to his size, he has fluid movement to mirror his opponent, as well as to recover when he struggles with a defender. During the team’s offseason workouts, he saw the majority of his snaps at left guard, alongside the starting unit. While rookie growing pains are to be expected, Strange should be a starter for the majority of the 2022 season.
When healthy, Wynn is one of the more fundamentally sound left tackles in the NFL. Despite the occasional breakdown in protection, Wynn performed reasonably well in 2021, making 15 starts during the regular season. He finished fifth on the team’s offensive unit, having taken 915 (82.8 percent) of their snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, Wynn allowed six sacks and five quarterback hits, earning an overall grade of 74.9. He was also flagged for penalties nine times throughout the season.
At his best, Wynn has the necessary quickness and strength to win battles when going one-on-one against edge rushers, or creating openings for the running game. Though a bit undersized for the position (listed at 6-3), his technique still makes him among the team’s best options at left tackle. Still, his absence from OTAs and minicamp provided the Pats with the chance to explore alternative options, including playing Brown at left tackle and Wynn on the right. While it may be early to read anything into the alignment switch among the tackles, it is something worth monitoring throughout training camp.
Despite his struggles, Herron was a solid depth piece along the Patriots offensive line in 2021. The Pats 2020 sixth-round choice appeared in 16 games in 2021, making four starts and taking 38 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. There are positive components to his work in pass protection in terms of how he frames rushers and keeps them at the end of his reach. He is a patient lineman that works to stay square on the perimeter while displaying decent quickness in his feet. Herron’s lack of functional strength and body control in the run game are restrictive to creating vertical push.
With Wynn absent from the voluntary portions of the team’s offseason workouts, Herron continued to get extended looks along the line by taking some snaps with the starting unit at right tackle. While both Brown and Wynn are largely expected to remain in starting roles, their combined injury history increases the probability of Herron seeing notable time on the field for New England in 2022.