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O-line rookie Sherman's flexibility could prove his strength

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The last time the Patriots drafted an offensive lineman from Colorado, they chose Nate Solder with the 17th overall selection of Round 1 back in 2011. At the time, New England had done plenty of homework on the player, including sending then O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia out for a last-minute personal workout with Solder. They also sought the advice of strength coach Moses Cabrera, who'd just been hired away from the Buffaloes.

As a result, the Patriots not only felt confident in taking Solder, but head coach Bill Belichick also made a rare declaration about him. "Left tackle will be [Solder's] position in the NFL," Belichick adamantly stated to reporters shortly after the pick had been made.

Normally, Belichick and the Patriots like to keep their cards close to the vest when it comes to projecting where most of their new players might fit into the system. It was therefore not much of a surprise to hear how the head coach assessed 2021 rookie Will Sherman, his latest o-line draft choice from Colorado.

"Sherman has played both left and right tackle… maybe also able or suited to play guard. So, we'll see how all that plays out. Certainly has some versatility."

Which is what could ultimately help Sherman make the roster in what is fast becoming a competitive Patriots offensive line depth chart. New England famously loves having players on either side of the ball who can play multiple spots, but O-line in particular is an area where the ability to play any combination or all of the five different positions can allow a player to secure a job over the long haul.

Like Solder, Sherman comes to Foxborough with three years of starting experience from Colorado. However, unlike Solder – who anchored the Buffs' left tackle spot for three seasons in Boulder after converting from tight end – Sherman has been an O-line product the whole time. He started nine of 12 games his redshirt freshman season (2018) at left tackle, then took over as the starting right tackle for all 12 games of his redshirt sophomore year.

As a redshirt junior in COVID-shortened 2020, Sherman was asked to move back to left tackle. In limited practice sessions, though, his coaches saw in Sherman the potential to become an NFL player, so, they helped him by offering him chances to work on his interior versatility.

"He was more valuable for us at tackle, but we did try him out at center a couple times," remarked Donovan Williams, Colorado's assistant offensive line coach. "He can play the position, just needs some work at it. For right now, he can play either guard or tackle, on either side. In order to maximize his potential in the league, getting center work would also be beneficial for him."

View photos of Patriots sixth round pick Offensive Tackle William Sherman in action at Colorado.

Williams himself played offensive line in college and had a couple of shots to make it with NFL clubs in 2016 before moving into the coaching ranks. His first season with Colorado, 2020, proved a challenge for the obvious reasons of the pandemic and its restrictions, but also from the school's conference, the PAC 12, having decided very late in the year to conduct a football season at all. Consequently, Williams and O-line coach Mitch Rodrigue (also in his first year at Colorado) had precious few opportunities to get to know their new players. Sherman, however, stood out, especially after Williams popped in the game tape of the previous two Buffs seasons.

"I liked how Will moved his feet, his technique. He was very technically sound," Williams continued, "which is one of the things you look for when you're getting a new group of guys. I also liked his ability to dominate every game. That reflected in his play. Those are some of the things I noticed right off the bat.

"He's kind of a quiet kid, kind of kept to himself," added Williams, "but as we started getting into practice and stuff, I started noticing a lot more how he prepares for the game and how he takes care of his body, as well as his mental approach to the game. It was really impressive to me. The way he got after it every day in practice. He competed. That's how I grew to like him a lot."

Meanwhile, the Patriots had been keeping tabs on Sherman, too. Whereas they didn't communicate much with Solder prior to taking him in 2011, Sherman divulged in his post-draft press conference that he'd had "a good amount" of discussions with New England representatives prior to the draft.

"I was definitely hoping that this was the organization that would pick me, just with the given history and the great coaching that's available," the soon-to-be-22-year-old Sherman (his birthday is May 29) asserted in his first comments to the media after his selection on May 1.

"One of the guys who I've watched is Isaiah Wynn," added Sherman, "just because he's about the same size as I am, still playing left tackle too. So just trying to watch him play left tackle, mirror his feet, his technique, his hands and all that stuff. So it's crazy to actually get drafted by the Patriots now just because he was definitely a guy who I used to watch in college a lot."

At this stage, Sherman could be in line to compete for the backup swing-tackle position, given his proven ability in college to play well on both the left and right sides. Backup guard is another area where he might be given an opportunity to showcase his talents, as Belichick hinted earlier, even though the team recently added a pair of experienced veteran interior linemen in James Ferentz and newcomer Alex Redmond.

While the Patriots re-signed center/co-captain David Andrews this offseason and brought back versatile interior O-lineman Ted Karras, who's started games in the past for New England at center and guard, it wouldn't be shocking to see Sherman take reps at center at some point this spring or summer with the Patriots.

"What the Patriots are getting out of Will Sherman," Williams concluded, "is a hard worker who's going to show up to work every day and prepare. He's always going to do extra work to get himself better. Will has a good and bright future."

Where exactly that will be, though, remains to be seen.

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