This much is true: You can never have enough quality offensive linemen. Still, for the first time in years, the line doesn't have to be a major focus for the Patriots in the draft.
Offensive linemen are hard to ignore on draft day. Odds are pretty good the Patriots will grab a linemen at some point, since the last time New England didn't pick a horse in the draft was back in 1979. Since 1991, the only year the Patriots did not draft a linemen by the fourth round was 1998, when seventh-round pick Jason Andersen was the lone lineman.
Heading into Bill Belichick's first two camps, New England brought in 15 linemen in 2000 and 14 in 2001. Obviously 13 is less than either of the other two campaigns, but there are also far fewer question marks this time around.
In Belichick's first year, the only three returning regular starters were Woody and aging veterans Bruce Armstrong and Todd Rucci. Armstrong only returned after a serious knee injury to Klemm, and Rucci was on the non-football injury list for all of camp and most of the season before he was released. Last year, Woody was the only returning player who started every game. Beyond him, Andruzzi was the only lineman who had a double-digit start total with 11.
If there was ever a year for the Patriots to pass on the line, this could be it. New England returns eight of its top nine linemen from last season, the lone exception being reserve tackle Grant Williams. The main starter at all five spots are back. Guards Mike Compton and Joe Andruzzi and right tackle Greg Robinson-Randall all started every game last season. Center Damien Woody started 15 games and played all but two series of the one game he didn't start. Even left tackle Matt Light started 12 games as a rookie, despite some injury problems.
Continuity up front has not been commonplace around these parts. However, it was easy to see the positive impact it has on the running game, where Antowain Smith was the most productive back in New England since the Curtis Martin days. As the season progressed, so too did the Patriots effectiveness on the ground. With all five starters and both starting backs returning, the running game actually appears more than dependable already.
It is possible for New England to stand pat with its list of linemen as is. Behind the returning starters are two young players with potentially starting-level talent (Adrian Klemm and Kenyatta Jones) and a third who is a decent reserve and special teams contributor (Grey Ruegamer).
Even beyond the group that saw action last season, New England already has three practice squad/project players returning in Stephen Neal, Drew Inzer and Tom Ashworth. Of the 13 linemen on the roster, only NFL Europe allocations Mike Clare and Pat Downey have not spent considerable time learning the New England schemes.
New England is in a good situation with the line, already having both continuity and the potential for competition for starting jobs. As improved as the line play was, there is room for tinkering, which should keep the entire group motivated to improve. If Klemm can stay healthy or Jones can show a leap of improvement in his second camp, shifting can occur. Another issue that has to be taken into account is Woody's problems with the shotgun snap and whether he might be better suited as a fulltime guard.
The Patriots moved around a bit to get Light in the second round last season, but barring similar transactions that shoot New England up the draft board, an early pick on an offensive lineman would be a surprise. With a quality blend of veterans and young potential, the focus early on can be in other areas.
Check back on Wednesday for a look at the secondary.