When it comes to offensive lines, it’s not always about experience.
Take the Patriots offensive line, for example.
In last year’s regular season, the Patriots ranked 28th in the NFL in experience, which is based on the combined career starts for the two guards, two tackles, and center on the offensive line with the most starts in the current season.
The number of starts for those players on the Patriots was 181. The team that ranked first was the Atlanta Falcons, with 481.
To compare the two teams’ offensive lines a bit more, the Patriots allowed 24 sacks and 97 quarterback hits. The Falcons allowed 37 sacks and 106 QB hits.
The Falcons did average more yards per carry, however, 4.6 to 3.9.
So what does seem to matter most on an offensive line? One could argue continuity.
Left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon started 14 of the Patriots’ 16 regular season games last season.
If you recall the season prior to that, the line was decimated, and it all came to a head against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, when Tom Brady could barely find time to drop back before he was hit.
But that wasn’t the case last season, as the Patriots really hit their stride as the season went along.
Though the Patriots were lucky to have their core starting line for most of the season, they also relied on some depth at certain points. Ted Karras and Cameron Flemming were two players who filled in occasionally.
“Ted played quite a bit for us early in the year,” Bill Belichick said. “Cam started at left tackle for us in Arizona. So, early in the year, actually, we used more than just those five guys. So, you never know. Ted has played guard and center for us – primarily guard, but played center. . . . On the offensive line, you’re one play away from not having the continuity of those five guys, so we have to prepare for that.”
The good news for the Patriots is that the five starters from last year are all on this year’s roster, too. And let’s not forget the help they’ll get from the tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen.
LT Nate Solder, LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Marcus Cannon, RG Ted Karras, LT Tony Garcia
Solder will remain the Pats most important offensive lineman, protecting Brady’s blind side. He’s also seen as their best offensive lineman after a nice bounce-back 2016 season coming off an injury-shortened 2015.
Consider Cannon one of the pleasant surprises on the team. After a relatively underwhelming beginning to his career, Cannon turned it around the last two seasons and inked a five-year, $32.5 million extension last November.
Thuney, Andrews, and Mason have made immediate impacts in their young careers and the expectation is that they’ll hold onto their roles.
LT LaAdrian Waddle, RT Cam Fleming, LG Jamil Douglas, C James Ferentz, RG Jason King, RT Conor McDermott, RT Cole Croston, LT Max Rich, LT Andrew Jelks