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Analysis: Backups battle for limited O-line spots 

As training camp and the preseason wind down, we're taking a last look at the competition at various positions. Today, a focus on the Patriots offensive linemen.

Patriots offensive line at Training Camp.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In football, the rules say you can only play five offensive lineman on any given play from scrimmage. Ideally, coaches want the same five players at the same five spots throughout the season, for consistency and efficiency's sake.

During the 2020 season, the Patriots had to shuffle players around quite a bit due to injuries, but so far this summer in training camp, familiar names have seen plenty of action at their mostly familiar spots.

Returning co-captain David Andrews has been anchoring the line from his normal center position. Shaq Mason continues to keep a stranglehold on the right guard position, while free agent pickup Trent Brown, who played left tackle during his first go-round with the Patriots in 2018, seems entrenched at right tackle nowadays.

On the opposite side, versatile second-year man Mike Onwenu is seeing considerable playing time at left guard – a departure from his almost exclusive right guard and right tackle assignments as a 2020 rookie. Former first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn finds himself where he always does, at left tackle, after the team exercised the fifth-year option in his contract (for the 2022 season) earlier this calendar year.

Beyond these five, there's a bit of intrigue regarding the remaining active roster spots, including how many New England will choose to keep. Typically, eight O-linemen wind up on the 53-man roster, which would leave seven players vying for just three jobs.

Based on the work he's gotten to date in camp and the preseason, it's probably safe to assume that Ted Karras has earned himself a spot once again. Karras spent his first four NFL seasons with the Patriots after they chose him in the 2016 Draft. He then went on sabbatical last year with the Dolphins down in Miami, but re-signed with New England as a free agent this past offseason. Not only is Karras a reliable insurance policy at either guard or center, he's one of the most experienced players in this offense, beyond Andrews and Mason.

As a rookie draft choice in 2020, Justin Herron saw action in a variety of roles, both as a starter and coming off the bench. When Wynn went on IR late last season, Herron started at left tackle for the team's final three games. Notably, though, when Wynn had to leave today's first joint practice session with the New York Giants prematurely, Yodny Cajuste stepped into the left tackle role for the remainder of the 11-on-11 periods. Cajuste, a 2019 draft choice, had been unable to overcome injuries his first two seasons here in Foxborough. Yet, this summer, he's been out there every day and steadily seeing his opportunities increase.

It's also worth mentioning that, with New England's tight end position having taken a hit with injuries lately, Herron often played the jumbo tight end/tackle eligible role last season, and we saw him line up there a number of times in the second preseason game at Philadelphia last week. It would be difficult to envision Herron not having a role with the team again this year.

Veteran Korey Cunningham has also been a regular in this O-line rotation, mostly from a tackle position, while plug-and-play James Ferentz, like Karras, can occupy either of the interior spots, and has done so numerous times over the past several seasons, particularly in emergency situations. If neither of them is tabbed for the active roster, there might be room on the practice squad, where the expanded 2020 rules remain in place for long-term veterans such as them. New England frequently keeps at least a couple of offensive linemen. With the final roster cuts coming next Tuesday, NFL veteran Alex Redmond, a late addition to the Patriots this offseason, and 2021 draft choice Will Sherman could be considerations for that capacity.

Another 2021 newcomer, Marcus Martin, had been getting a fair number of opportunities throughout the early and middle portions of camp, but recently wound up on New England's injured reserve list and is no longer an option this season. Neither is R.J. Prince, who was released yesterday.

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