The new faces will bring much-needed competition to camp this summer and perhaps unseat the veterans who combined to start 71 games last season.
As is often the case in New England, no job is safe, especially up front where the Patriots have made a habit of taking mid- to late-round draft picks and developing them into serviceable veterans, among them Nick Kaczur (third round), Dan Koppen (fifth round) and Stephen Neal, a former wrestler who didn’t even play college football and went undrafted before eventually starting 81 games for the Patriots between 2001 and 2010.
Two of the five starters on last year’s team took the same route as Neal, center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly, both of whom went undrafted, but have developed into key players on the offensive line.
The Patriots’ history with mid- to late-round picks is encouraging with two fourth-round picks and a sixth-rounder coming to camp in July, but the difference this year is they’ll have to learn ropes without longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia on the sidelines. Scarnecchia spent 31 seasons in New England, surviving multiple coaching changes and various league trends, and was considered the key to turning unknown commodities such as Neal, Connolly, etc., into effective role players.
Dave DuGuglielmo, a former guard at Boston College and offensive line coach for the Jets and Dolphins, will replace Scarnecchia in 2014. He’ll have his work cut out for him despite the veteran presence of Wendell, Connolly, Logan Mankins, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer. Even with tremendous continuity up front, which usually yields tremendous results, the Patriots allowed 40 sacks last year, the second-highest total of quarterback Tom Brady’s career and the most allowed since Brady’s second pro season in 2001.
The influx of new talent might not lead to a seismic shift in the starting lineup in 2014, but the moves made this past weekend will certainly give the Patriots flexibility within the next few years. Wendell and Mankins are only under contract for two more years. Mankins might command big money on the open market, if he gets that far, and there’s no guarantee he’ll finish his career in New England. As good, and durable, as Wendell has been since winning the job from Koppen in 2012, he’s expendable in 2016 if Stork turns out to be as good as advertised. The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Stork dealt with some minor aches and pains in college, including a finger injury that nearly required amputation, but still won the Rimington Trophy last year as the nation’s top center.
The Patriots finished the weekend by selecting running back James White (4th round, 130th overall), defensive end Zach Moore (6th round, 198th overall), cornerback Jemea Thomas (6th round, 206th overall) and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (7th round, 244th overall).
Support WBOB Sports