With Wynn done for season, Patriots look to replenish depth on O-line

  • New England Patriots rookie offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (50) and rookie running back Sony Michel (51) step on the field at the start of an NFL football minicamp practice, Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne

  • New England quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes under pressure from Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox (91) and Chris Long (56), being blocked by Patriots tackle Trent Brown (77), during the first half of a preseason game on Thursday in Foxborough, Mass. BELOW: New England’s rookie offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (left) and rookie running back Sony Michel step on the field at the start of training camp last month. AP photos

For the Monitor
Published: 8/18/2018 7:46:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There was a moment after the Patriots dealt a third-round pick to San Francisco for a massive right tackle, Trent Brown, when some were wondering what Bill Belichick was doing.

A day after selecting Isaiah Wynn, a much-touted left tackle from Georgia and the presumptive replacement for departed free agent Nate Solder, with the 23rd-overall pick, it seemed curious to some that Belichick would invest more draft capital in an offensive tackle. Furthermore, the team had just resigned veteran reserve LaAdrian Waddle at the same position.

Now that Wynn has been lost for the season to an Achilles tendon injury, Belichick’s intentions are coming into focus: Tackles are like pitchers, you can’t have enough of them.

Since 2001, the Patriots have had extraordinary continuity at the left tackle position with Matt Light (2001-2011) and Solder (2012-2017) playing the vast majority of games on Tom Brady’s blind side. When the Giants made Solder the NFL’s highest-paid tackle earlier this year, New England had to begin a new era.

“I think we’ve had such great players at that position between Matt Light and then Nate (Solder) for an extended period of time,” Brady said after Thursday night’s preseason victory over the Eagles. “You wish you could keep all the guys together, but it’s just not the case.”

Since early in camp, Brown, the largest player in the league at 6-foot-8, 380 pounds (according to the Patriots roster), appears to have a firm grip on the starting job. He has played with the first unit since Day 1, and started in each of New England’s first two preseason games.

“Trent has come in and really gained everyone’s trust by how he’s approached that particular spot that he’s in,” Brady said. “Obviously, that whole unit up front, we rely so much on them to set the tone in the run game and the pass game, and we’re going to need them to all be at their best.”

With right tackle Marcus Cannon sidelined with a muscle strain, Waddle started in the first preseason game, just as he did in Super Bowl LII when Cannon was on injured reserve. But by the second exhibition, Wynn had moved up to earn reps with the first unit and started the game against Philadelphia before suffering his season-ending injury. The loss wipes out a considerable array of options for New England.

Cannon missed half the season last year with an ankle injury, and it is easy to see where the Patriots would have liked Wynn as the primary backup at either tackle position, giving him a year to season in New England’s offense. They also could have used Wynn as an interior lineman, giving them the option to trade either left guard Joe Thuney or right guard Shaq Mason (an exceptional player whose contract expires after this season).

Now, New England has lost any chance to experiment with Wynn for an entire year.

It puts the Patriots back in a familiar position of coaching young players who can’t participate physically. Last year, the Pats lost second-year corner Cyrus Jones (the first player they selected in the 2016 draft) to an ACL tear in the preseason. Likewise, their first two selections from the 2017 draft were lost last season when defensive lineman Derek Rivers tore his ACL and tackle Antonio Garcia suffered blood clots in his lungs.

As Wynn attempts to learn from the sideline, the Patriots will now look to replenish the depth they lost on the offensive front.

“I mean, I love that group and the effort they’re putting in,” Brady said. “We’ve just got to all try to keep getting better.”

(Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.)

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