By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The world of professional football can be cruel, and it can be cold. At a certain point, “Next Man Up” becomes a perfect representative of that brutal way of life.
So, to briefly break character, we should begin this here conversation by first acknowledging that David Andrews’ blood clots in his lungs create a real-life, scary situation, to the point where his place and role on a football team is mostly meaningless. Everyone with a head and a heart wishes the best and wishes for an expedited recovery for Andrews.
Bill Belichick has a head and a heart, and he also has a football team to manage. When it comes to that second part, the Patriots’ head coach will surely press on, as the NFL schedule waits for no man to heal before kicking off.
The first player to get a crack at filling Andrews’ shoes will be Ted Karras. In terms of transitions, this one won’t be the bumpiest for Tom Brady. Karras has been on the team since getting drafted in the sixth round in 2016. He’s been active for 45 career games, and he’s started five games on the interior line. Behind Karras on the depth chart would be James Ferentz, who spent 2017 on the Patriots’ practice squad and two games on the active roster last year. He was active for 20 games for the Broncos in 2015 and 2016.
With Andrews missing some time throughout training camp, Brady’s taken snaps from Karras throughout the summer. That part of the adjustment process won’t be too difficult for Brady. It’s how Karras responds to the rest of his new list of responsibilities that will go a long way in determining how effective the Patriots’ offense can be.
With Isaiah Wynn and his zero games of NFL experience starting at left tackle, there now will be even more inexperience on the line with (presumably) Karras at center. While Wynn thus far looks capable of handling the duties, the pressure will be on Karras — literally and figuratively — to be nearly perfect in the center of the line when it comes to pass protection. As anyone who remembers the first month of the 2014 season (aka the Jordan Devey days) can attest, the almighty Brady can lose his powers very quickly when defenses can generate pressure up the middle.
Any way you look at it, life won’t be particularly easy for Brady as he tries to work with an entirely new tight end group, a mostly new wide receiver group, and 40 percent of a brand new offensive line.
And that’s just the passing game. Arguably an equal or bigger challenge facing this year’s offensive line will be in the run game. As evidenced by the Patriots’ preposterous nine rushing touchdowns in three playoff games last year, the ground game was a significant part of the overall offensive approach. (The Patriots finished the regular season tied for the fourth-most rushing touchdowns with 18, while also finishing in the top five for rushing yards.)
The challenge for the line to continue that work without left tackle Trent Brown and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen was already steep. Working an inexperienced center into the mix only adds to that challenge.
If one were eager for a positive spin, though, one could note that Andrews was an undrafted free agent out of Georgia back in 2015, deemed unworthy of a draft selection seven times over by 32 teams. He’d end up starting 11 games that year, and he’s started in all but two of the Patriots’ games since then.
That’s not to diminish the skills, ability, toughness and smarts of Andrews in any way. It is, though, a nod to the abilities of Dante Scarnecchia, who’s widely regarded as the best offensive line coach in the history of the game. While such claims are difficult to very, the point stands that Scarnecchia is able to maximize the players he’s given.
Add in the fact that he’ll have Joe Thuney to his left and Shaq Mason to his right, and life will be a little easier for Karras. Still, that countdown to Week 1 ticks louder with each passing second. Though the Patriots have a strong enough system in place to survive the current situation, nothing about it will be easy.