Michael Onwenu was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2020 season, stepping in as an unheralded 6th-round pick and starting every game, giving the Patriots solid play at right tackle. In 2021, Onwenu had shifted to his more natural position inside at guard, where he spent his college career, but as injuries struck the offensive line in recent weeks, his versatility gives offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels some options.
After missing a game due to time on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, Onwenu returned against the Cowboys and found himself back at right tackle for the first time this season.
"Mike's a super unselfish guy," said McDaniels. "I know Mike will do whatever we ask him to do and we felt like that was the best decision at that point in time... He's got a lot of experience over there from what we did with them last year. I've got confidence in Mike playing really at tackle, inside at guard, he prepares hard, he studies hard, he's a tough guy and he's like a lot of linemen that we've had in the past where the more they can do, the more flexibility that they give you.
"So Mike helps us in terms of depth and moving the chess pieces around if we encounter some situations during the course of the game."
Onwenu downplayed the position shift.
"The same type of techniques are being taught, wherever my team needed me that's where I was at," said Onwenu. "Whether it's a run play or pass play, I'm hitting somebody."
But McDaniels elaborated on how complicated it can be for a player to not only shift positions but to shift sides of the offense, as Onwenu did moving from left guard to right tackle.
"To prepare to play multiple spots on the offensive line in practice is really an interesting study because you're going to get some reps at right tackle and you're communicating with the guy who's playing right guard and last week that was Ted Karras. A lot of the terms they're using and discussing are either "R" words or they mean something different than what they were going to on the left side.
"Then you go on the left side and you're talking to the center and left tackle a little bit more than you are the right guard so their communication's a little different. Some of the terms they use are different and certainly some of the same terms that mean something at right tackle will mean a completely different thing to you at left guard. There's a mental tax to that and there's a repetition portion of practice that is really necessary and I give these guys a ton of credit getting ready to play multiple often spots on the offensive line in the same week, especially when you're on the opposite sides of the football. That's a chore."
Despite the challenge, McDaniels felt Onwenu held up well.
"I give Mike a lot of credit for preparing the way he does and being ready to play any spot that we ask him to play in a given week," said McDaniels. "I thought he went in there and played representatively well last week, the way we thought he would."
Not one to dwell on the last game, Onewnu was looking forward to the challenge of facing a disruptive Jets front seven.
"The next week is always the most important game so that's our focus this week next game," said Onwenu. "[The Jets are] a good defensive front, disruptive, they get up the field. It'll be a task."
As the team enters the seventh week of the season, those who opened the year on the PUP list are now eligible to begin practicing. The Patriots welcomed quarterback Jarrett Stidham and defensive lineman Byron Cowart back to the practice fields, activating their three-week window to return to the roster. Terez Hall remains on PUP while rookies Cameron McGrone and Joshuah Bledsoe are still on the NFI list.
As for those on the roster, Dont'a Hightower (ankle/elbow), Davon Godchaux (finger), Jonathan Jones (ankle) and Shaun Wade were missing from the opening periods of Wednesday's session. Deatrich Wise (knee) was also listed on the initial Injury Report as DNP. 11 other Patriots were limited.