In the lead-up to New England Patriots training camp, with the first public practice scheduled for Thursday, it is timely to review each position on the roster with our annual “roster locks” series. After previously highlighting the running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends, linebackers, defensive tackles, safeties, and cornerbacks, let's move on to the offensive line:
Explaining the locks: The biggest question is at Nate Solder's old spot at left tackle, where first-round pick Wynn (No. 23) is among the top candidates to start alongside Brown, who was acquired along with a fifth-round pick from the 49ers in March in exchange for a third-round pick. Wynn also could be a factor at left guard, where he practiced at times in the spring and could challenge Thuney, the starter in 2016-2017 who is coming off foot surgery. Andrews has elevated from 2015 undrafted free-agent to team captain, while Mason is one of the NFL's better right guards who enters the last year of his contract and thus is in position for a significant pay increase in 2019. The 30-year-old Cannon is locked in at right tackle as the most experienced player in the group, entering his eighth season.
Roster management: The Patriots kept eight offensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster last season before adding a ninth (Karras) a few days later, and that's the number they stuck with for the season. As part of that group, they had four offensive tackles, which was important depth that was noted by Bill Belichick as critical because all of them started at various points. Waddle (sixth year) would seemingly have the inside track for a fourth spot at tackle this year, with line coach Dante Scarnecchia referring to him as a starting-caliber player at one point in 2017. Croston, of Iowa, developed mostly behind the scenes last year and could be ready to take another step as his versatility to play guard and tackle could be appealing as the staff ultimately assesses how all the pieces fit together. Tobin and John fit a similar position-based profile, and have more playing experience, while Karras and Bowanko will vie for a backup spot along the interior with Ferentz and King.
Stat of note: Scarnecchia, the offensive line coach, turned 70 in February and enters his 35th NFL season, 33 of which have been with the Patriots.
One thing to watch for in camp: Up to this point, linemen have focused on hand placement and footwork, because there have been no full-pad practices, but that will change after the first two days of training camp. The first checkpoint comes Saturday, July 28, which is usually the first time the pads come on and when one-on-one drills in the far corner of the field begin (fans could benefit from bringing a pair of binoculars). That's a good time to assess the power of a lineman's punch, along with footwork, etc. Listed at 6-foot-8 and 355 pounds, Brown blocks out the sun, while Wynn is notably smaller (6-2, 310) but is considered an advanced technician after accounting well for himself in the SEC (Georgia) against top competition. How the left-tackle competition between them unfolds is one of the top stories in camp, and one-on-one drills will be part of the evaluation.