The New England Patriots offensive line was an issue in 2022. Matt Patricia, who was coach of the unit, was also the team’s primary play caller. The offensive line is too important to have the man in charge not giving it their undivided attention, which was evident. This was addressed in the offseason, with the Patriots hiring Adrian Klemm to oversee the group. But will a new man in charge of the OL room translate to better on field results? After Week 1 there is still no clear answer.
Despite bringing in Klemm, many felt Bill Belichick did not do enough to address the actual Patriots personnel on the line. They drafted three offensive linemen (Jake Andrews, Sidy Sow, Atonio Mafi) in the 2023 NFL Draft, but none before the fourth round. They signed two veterans (Riley Reiff, Calvin Anderson) in free agency, but none of the big money options. Even as training camp was ending and final 53-man rosters were finalized, Belichick was still bringing in more options (Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Vederian Lowe).
The Patriots final 53-man roster included a staggering 11 offensive linemen. Was Belichick valuing quantity over quality? Was the hope that if they brought in enough options, eventually they’d be able to find five that could play?
Depth is crucial at every position on every team. The thought that the Patriots would need to be deep along the line makes sense. But now the regular season is underway and there are still plenty of questions.
A healthy New England Patriots offensive line would feature: LT Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Mike Onwenu, RT Calvin Anderson. In Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, both Strange and Onwenu were among the team’s inactives due to injuries. The veteran among the remaining players who saw the most time at guard in the preseason: Riley Reiff. Unfortunately, Reiff is injured as well, having been put on IR to start the season.
These injuries forced the Patriots to start two rookies at guards against the Eagles: Atonio Mafi on the left, Sidy Sow on the right. Sow had played mostly right tackle in the preseason but was kicked inside out of necessity. Jake Andrews is primarily a center (David Andrews primary backup) and both Wheatley Jr. and Lowe are primarily tackles. None of these options were with New England six months ago.
Sunday’s starting line of (from left to right) Brown, Mafi, D.Andrews, Sow and Anderson all played 100% of the offensive snaps. They did decently against a very good defense but were far from great. The Patriots failed to generate a rushing attack and there was both penalties and pressures against the group. Not surprisingly the players with the most experience, David Andrews and Trent Brown, held up best.
When Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu return, the Patriots will improve a lot immediately. Strange was the Patriots first round pick in 2022 and showed improvement as the season progressed. Onwenu has been the best and most consistent performer on the offensive line since he arrived in Foxboro. If Mafi and Sow can become backup understudies, New England’s offensive line suddenly goes from being below average to having depth with some game experience.
The question marks are still plentiful at this point. How long will Strange and Onwnu be out? Does Jake Andrews, Wheatley or Lowe have any positional versatility? Will Reiff be returning to the roster after his four weeks (minimum) on Injured Reserve are over? And the question nobody can answer, will the rest of the linemen stay healthy?
Bill Belichick brought in a lot of new bodies, without adding a blue chip free agent, or using much draft capital to do so. Belichick has hit with under-the-radar offensive lineman many times before, so it is easy to believe they can find another diamond in the rough. Will Adrian Klemm ultimately be able to mold these options into a cohesive unit? That is the big question of the 2023 New England Patriots season, even after Week 1. The unknown answer will determine how good this Patriots team can and will be.