After battling incumbents Max Lane and Todd Rucci for a starting spot throughout the preseason, guard Heath Irwin has achieved his goal of being a starter for the New England Patriots.
Head Coach Pete Carroll announced Monday afternoon that Irwin would start the season-opener against the New York Jets.
"We feel as though Heath Irwin has developed as a starter," Carroll said. "Heath has prompted [the change] with his play. He made a charge at the end of last season until he hurt his ankle. He shows the ability to get downfield and block linebackers."
The guard spots have been a hot topic throughout training camp. Irwin and the recently-waived Damon Denson were expected to challenge Lane and Rucci for starting jobs. Though Lane and Rucci have started much of the last three seasons, the veterans have received criticism for the teams' poor ground game in recent years. New England was tied for 27th in rushing last season, gaining just 92.5 rushing yards a game. The team has not averaged more than 3.7 yards per carry in the last three years.
Carroll said Irwin would replace Lane in the lineup, as Rucci would start at left guard. Earning the opening day start is a step towards perfecting the spot, but Irwin still has work to do. Though he will be on the field for the first series, Carroll said Irwin would be involved in a rotation with Rucci and Lane.
Irwin's versatility has been a plus for the team for the last two seasons. Over that time, he has four starts at left guard, but he has filled in at right guard and center at times as well.
"It's definitely hard, but it gets a little bit better each year," Irwin said about playing multiple spots on the line. "It's fun to play and my whole goal is to get on the field, but it's hard. This year things have been a little easier, but hopefully some day I can just be on one side [permanently] and perfect that one side."