The Patriots were off on Tuesday aside from conference calls with Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and outside linebackers coach Demarcus Covington. A predictable point of interest was along the offensive line where the team has been scrambling since the early days of training camp, and has continued to scramble as injuries have hit in the last two games.
Against the Dolphins, the team started Marshall Newhouse at right tackle after just signing him last Wednesday. Then, when Isaiah Wynn went down with a foot injury, Newhouse was forced to move to the left side and Korey Cunningham, just acquired on August 28th himself, entered the game at right tackle.
Belichick liked how the veterans had helped the two newcomers.
"[T]hat group is a hardworking group,' said Belichick. "They've communicated well together and the guys with more experience helping some of the guys with less experience, but overall we've just tried to take it day-by-day and do the things that we can do."
What are those things they can do? And how do you put new players in a position to succeed?
McDaniels gave some insight into the tinkering that goes on behind the scenes.
"The personnel that's available to you based on injury or availability, and you try to play to your strengths and you try to protect any weaknesses based on matchup that you may have on a weekly basis," said McDaniels. "And those happen across the field. So the decisions that we make, how we try to play the game and what we try to do and attempt to do schematically hopefully is in line with what we're doing and what they're able and capable of doing at this time."
"We're not going to run a new offense just because we have a new player on the offensive line," said Belichick.
"Some plays, if this player was in there, we might want to run that, but maybe he's not available this week so we'll go with something else and that frequently happens; no question about it. It's a consideration. Ultimately, it comes down to matchups and if you are concerned about a particular matchup then you've got to really decide how much you really want to run that play."
Despite the changes and fluidity of the offensive line situation it was still business as usual for the offensive coordinator.
"We practice that way with each man on the roster, whether it's on the 53 or the practice squad," McDaniels explained. "When they get reps, they're meaningful reps, and we are preparing them to be ready to play in the game on Sunday. So that part doesn't change for us, and really the next phase of that is you evaluate your team on a week-to-week basis. The personnel that's available to you based on injury or availability, and you try to play to your strengths and you try to protect any weaknesses based on matchup that you may have on a weekly basis."
The parade of new offensive linemen coming to Foxboro continued with the reported signing of Caleb Benenoch.
Benenoch, a four-year veteran, has 22 career starts, including 16 last season at right guard with the Buccaneers. He can play a variety of spots along the offensive line but is still considered a tackle and will likely be called upon to be the swing backup should Wynn and Marcus Cannon be unavailable for this weekend's tilt with the Jets.
Speaking of Wynn, there was good but not great news reported from Ian Rapoport.
Obviously it's a relief to avoid a season-ending injury, but the uncertainty will now have us on Wynn Watch for the foreseeable future. It's an unfortunate setback for a player the Patriots really need. He was off to a really solid start and hopefully this does not delay his development for very long.
Conference Call Sound Bites
Demarcus Covington on Dont'a Hightower:
"Dont'a – he's a captain for the 2019 season, so that says a lot about his leadership ability, and that's all voted by his teammates. With that, he's done a great job as a leader of our defense. He's a veteran. He knows the defense in and out, so he's like a coach on the field. He's able to communicate effectively on the field, to communicate effectively in the meeting room, so he's been great. The leadership role has been great. He's been doing it on and off the field, which is a good thing for us and makes our job as coaches easier to have players like him, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung – all those guys out there on the field who have a ton of experience and a ton of knowledge and are able to go out there and really be coaches on the field when the lights come on."