New England Patriots: What to do with Returning Bryan Stork?


Despite multiple injuries across the offensive line, the New England Patriots are sitting pretty with an impressive 7-0 start to the season. The defending Super Bowl champions are legitimate contenders once again, as they are clearly one of the best teams in all of football.

Tom Brady has the led the offense to an incredible start, as the Patriots have scored a league-leading 35.6 points per game through their first seven games. They are once again a well-oiled machine offensively, mostly due to Brady’s MVP caliber play.

The weak spot in the Patriots’ offense right now is clearly the offensive line, but mostly through no fault of their own. Entering the season, the Patriots’ offensive line of left tackle Nate Solder, center Bryan Stork, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and some sort of combination of Ryan Wendell and rookies Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson at guard looked to be a championship-caliber bunch.

However, injuries immediately took their toll on the position. Wendell missed most of training camp with an illness that was never revealed. Wendell is far from a perfect player, but he had far and away more experience than any other guard on the Patriots’ roster. Wendell was inactive for the first five games of the Patriots’ season, causing the rookies Mason and Jackson to step up, along with Josh Kline.

Early in the season, a rotation between the three players at guard was working extremely well, with Kline and Mason being the two who stepped up and performed at the highest level. Mason has now missed the last two weeks with a knee injury, and Jackson also hurt his knee last week. Neither injury is expected to be serious, but the Patriots are now extremely thin at the position with Wendell and Kline as the only two ideal options.

Stork suffered a concussion in the preseason, and the Patriots placed him on short-term IR to start the season. In his absence, undrafted rookie David Andrews stepped up in a big way for the Patriots. Andrews’ high-level of play allowed the Patriots to not even miss a beat in the absence of their starting center.

Injuries to Solder and primary back-up Marcus Cannon have also killed the Patriots’ depth at the tackle position. Vollmer is filling admirably at left tackle while Cameron Fleming has stepped up and played well at right tackle after being called-up from the practice squad.

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Simply put, the Patriots have issues across their entire offensive line. Their current stable of Vollmer, Kline, Andrews, Wendell and Fleming from left to right is currently getting the job done, but there is no depth up front, and the starters are less than impressive.

This week, the offensive line should get a shot in the arm, as Stork is expected to return to the field following his IR designation. Stork practiced with the team last week, and appears ready to step into full-time duty.

The only issue with that is Andrews’ play at center has been great. He is currently the most stable part of the entire Patriots’ offensive line. That being said, Stork was one of the best rookie offensive lineman in the entire league last season. The Patriots need to find a way to get him in the line-up.

Perhaps a temporary position change is in the cards? Andrews has always played the center position. In high school and throughout his entire career at Georgia, Andrews knew nothing else other than center. Stork was also primarily a center in college at Florida State, but he also saw plenty of time at guard, and even a little bit at tackle.

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Moving Stork to a guard position would be something he could seemingly handle with ease. Stork is a big and powerful blocker who excels in the run game. The Patriots have had issues in run blocking in recent weeks, making Stork’s return even more important.

With his powerful style of blocking, Stork would probably be best suited at right guard. That works because Kline is holding down the fort well at left guard, while Wendell has struggled in his limited playing time.

With the return of Stork, the Patriots should have their starting offensive line as followed from left to right: Vollmer, Kline, Andrews, Stork and Fleming. Wendell gives the team decent depth, and could step in and play right guard at times to keep Stork fresh. When Mason and Jackson return, I would expect to see a similar rotation with Kline that we saw before.

This would likely push Wendell out of a job, and possibly Stork back to center. Depending on how Andrews is holding up, perhaps Stork just takes his job back full-time? Maybe he shares it with Andrews while also still playing a little bit of right guard? I doubt this is the case, but maybe Stork ends up being the odd man out? Perhaps somebody tries to play some tackle?

It does not look great right now, but with Stork returning, and the injuries to Mason and Jackson not expected to be overly serious, the Patriots could find themselves with a ton of depth on the interior of the offensive line very soon. It is a great problem to have, but I do not know if there will be enough playing time to go around for all of the worthy candidates.

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The situation is extremely murky right now, but it all should start working itself out soon. When it comes down to it, the Patriots have enough talent up front to continue to have elite offensive success, and that is the most important thing.