Tag Archives: Bryan Stork

New England Patriots: Who’s Next In Line? A Salute To The Hard Hats.

Well, as hard as it may be to believe, we’ve reached the halfway point of the regular season…and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are 8-0 and have already run away and hid from their AFC East foes.

As far as games go, the always troublesome NY Giants are next in line for a Sunday afternoon joust in mid-November. That’s set in stone. The Giants have spoiled perfect seasons in the past and most of Patriot Nation will never forgive them. This is a new year, with both teams having rotated most of their roster, but the anger is still there. Hell hath no fury like a Patriot fan scorned as Eli Manning and Tom Brady square off once again.

Talking about things you don’t talk about

Chandler Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 9 1/2 after 8 games (Photo: NFL.com)
Chandler Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 9 1/2 after 8 games (Photo: NFL.com)

When you talk about teams in the NFL, it’s usually a good thing when you don’t mention their offensive line. I mean, come on, talk about boring. The less you hear about them the better, ’cause it means they are playing well, that’s a given. Much is written about the glamour positions – QB, WR, TE, RB, DE…hell even CB’s!

But what about those guys down in the trenches? You know, the lunch bucket crew. The hard hats. Without looking it up most fans cannot name 10 offensive linemen from all the other teams in the NFL. My old Patriots Beat partner, Jeff Kane, is the exception, but he’s strange that way! And that group of grunts (I say that with affection) actually like it like that. They are happy just doing their job, heading home for a nice cool one (or two or three) and enjoying their anonymity.

Saying that, it’s impossible to talk about the Patriots’ success in 2015 without mentioning the turmoil that continues to occur every game with the biggest surprise of this year (no, not Dion Lewis, but he sure will be missed) – the unbelievable success of the no names in front of Tom Brady. They started the season without some big cogs in the machine that is in charge of protecting the life of the best QB in the history of the NFL, and it got worse week by week.

Who’s next up in the revolving door that is the offensive line?

So, let’s see who is next in line, as the names keep changing, but the results remain the same. The original front five were expected to be chosen from this group (in alphabetical order):

David Andrews, Chris Barker, Marcus Cannon, Blaine Clausell, Dan Connelly, Cameron Fleming, Tre Jackson, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, Nate Solder, Bryan Stork, Sebastian Vollmer & Ryan Wendell.

That’s a hearty mixture of 14 (as in fourteen) young and old bodies that should allow Bill Belichick to pick the chosen few for his game day roster each week, right? So, what’s the problem? Well, as the Patriots prepare for the Giants the majority of the names above have fallen aside, either through retirement (Connolly) or injury (Solder, Vollmer, Wendell to name the most obvious) leaving the available list mighty slim.

Undrafted free agent Dave Andrews is the only offensive lineman to played every snap this season (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Undrafted free agent center Dave Andrews (60) is the only offensive lineman to play every snap this season (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The team went into last Sunday’s game dressing six offensive lineman and by the end of the game the number had dwindled to five!

Tom Brady foolishly made the tackle after throwing an interception in the Patriots win over Washington (Photo: AP/Charles Krupa)
Tom Brady foolishly made the tackle after throwing an interception in the Patriots win over Washington (Photo: AP/Charles Krupa)

Yes, you read that right. Once Vollmer went out with a head injury, the Patriots had no available back-ups to protect (gulp) Tom Brady. You wonder why they went to the running game early in the second half and now you know. Thank God TEs Rob Gronkowski and Michael Williams are both solid blockers and LeGarrette Blount is a horse or we could be praying for Tom Brady’s recovery right now.

Based on all the injuries, rookies and the retirement of Connolly you would expect Brady to be getting pummeled in every game, but it just ain’t so my friends. The fastest gun in the NFL has been sacked 18 times while running 537 plays. Sure, we all cringe as the bodies fly around him each week and, heaven forbid, he throw an interception and foolishly decide it’s his job to bring down the interceptor…because in all honesty, he is the franchise.

New England Patriots Hard HatsSalute To The Hard Hats

So, it’s time for fans to step up and salute those unheralded hard hats that give up their bodies each week so that Mr. Brady can continue, at the “old” age of 38, with his best season ever in the NFL. The offensive line has done it with smoke and mirrors, along with great coaching by Offensive Line Coach Dave DeGuglielmo in his second season, after the retirement of longtime Patriots coach Dante Scarnecchia.

It’s not a pretty job, but someone has to do it (how’s that for original journalism) as the next in line steps up in the quest for another Super Bowl.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

New England Patriots: Finally A Game That Means Something

The first two pre-season games mean little to nothing.  They are an opportunity to shake the tree and see what falls out that may be a surprise among the newcomers.  The experienced vets play little and undrafted free agents and draft picks get their opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff…and most of all Head Coach Bill Belichick.

Now game three…that’s a different story!

New England vs Carolina: Finally A Game That Means Something

Pre-Season Game 3

Friday night’s Patriots’ game at Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC is important for many reasons. It will give fans their first chance to see most of the veterans in action and evaluate how things are expected to evolve when the season starts against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, September 10 at Gillette Stadium.

What to watch for Friday night:

  • How much playing time Patriots’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo gets with the first team unit against the Carolina Panthers first

    Luke Kuechly grabs Rob Gronkowski in the famous last play non-call loss (Photo: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com
    Luke Kuechly grabs Rob Gronkowski in the famous last play non-call loss (Photo: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

    team. Although most teams don’t “game plan” for preseason match-ups and keep things pretty vanilla this will be a true test against an always strong Panther defense featuring former Boston College Eagle Luke Kuechly. Last season the Middle Line-Backer was voted to the Pro Bowl and selected to the NFL All-Pro First Team for the second consecutive season.

Although Garoppolo took a huge step forward in last weeks comeback win against the Saints, every Patriot fan in the world is hoping Tom Brady is the starting QB when the opening bell rings. That said, the Patriots have to be ready if his suspension is upheld and Belichick is the best in football having his team prepared for every contingency. Sure Tom Terrific will play in this game and may get the majority of snaps…but this will be the only chance Garoppolo has to play with the offensive unit that will start the season and against an opponent who will also be using most of their “A” units on both defense and offense.

  • By 4 p.m Tuesday (9/1) all clubs must cut their rosters to 75 players on the active list.

That means many of the names you see on the current team roster will be gone shortly after this game. Those on-the-bubble players will be showcasing their talents in hopes they catch the eye of another team.  With limited playing time in this game they have to make every minute they are on the field count.

  • This will be a test of the evolving Patriots’ secondary and defense.

Malcom Butler makes the play in pre-season vs New Orleans (Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com photo)
Malcom Butler makes the play in pre-season vs New Orleans (Keith Nordstrom Patriots.com photo)

When starters have played against starters this pre-season (a small sampling at best) the Patriots secondary has been (I’m being kind here) challenged and, with the exception of Malcom Butler, have not met that challenge very well. Both the Packers (Game #1) & Saints (Game #2) seemed to march up and down the field with ease. On the positive side, as has been the case throughout most of the Belichick years, the team seemed to suck-it-up once the opponent got inside the Pats 20 yard line. The healthy return of Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo will be critical to this years defensive unit along with the addition of Jabaal Sheard and continued development of Jamie Collins. 

  • Gronkowski, Chandler and Wayne could see playing time

For the first time we could have a good look at Scott Chandler as he teams up with Rob GronkowskiAdd in the possible sighting of newcomer Reggie Wayne and it could make for an interesting mix despite the continued absence due to injury of Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. The playing time for Chris Harper will also be an indication of his likelihood to stick with New England while so many WRs are still hurting.

  • The annual shuffle on the offensive line continues

The return of Ryan Wendell should help quiet down the jitters of rookies Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason, who have both shown promise but also weaknesses that need to be worked on.  With Nate Solder and Sebastion Volmer back and the continued development of second year center Bryan Stork this unit should start to jell shortly.

  • The Shane Vereen question

As training camp started most (myself included) experts (did I just refer to myself as an expert? Surely not!) felt the Patriots would be hard pressed to replace the 3rd down efficiency of Shane Vereen.  Although his replacement has not yet been determined, a few leading candidates have stepped up and made themselves known. Last years 4th round pick, James White, has taken a gigantic leap in his second camp and is the favorite to step into the role. Keep a close eye on 24-year-old Dion Lewis who has bounced around since being a 5th round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2011 draft. He was out of football last year (leg injury) but has displayed some explosiveness, especially last week against the Saints.

Other developments will occur during the game, so enjoy this one all the way to the end.  Next week  the “locks” will sit while the bubble players will get most of the playing time before final cuts are made. The 1st and 4th games are usually the sloppiest and hardest to watch, so it’s nice to finally have a game that means something!

Follow me on twitter @SnowdonBob

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