FOXBORO -- It seems like every summer the Patriots try to mix and match on their offensive line as much as possible. As players work in at different positions and work alongside different teammates, they're preparing for the inevitable injury that forces the inevitable lineup change. It's a brutal game of musical chairs for which they have to be ready.
Whether it's with first-time starter Jimmy Garoppolo's comfort level in mind or some other reason, it sounds as though the Patriots may be changing their ways during this year's training camp.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, back after a two-year retirement, said on Wednesday that a lack of continuity last season hurt the team's play up front in 2015. When the Patriots find their best five linemen, Scarnecchia plans on playing them alongside one another as often as possible.
"I think that we're gonna try to keep the guys, whoever's the first five, we're gonna try to keep those guys together as much as we can," Scarnecchia said. "It's not always practical to do that, and there's competition at multiple positions so there may be some in and out that way.
"But the thing is, if we can keep the left tackle playing the left tackle, the right tackle [playing right tackle], and try to keep the guards playing on the same side as much as we can, that'll really help everybody. There's gotta be some guys that swing around in there, because we only end up with eight or nine linemen, [but] I think it'll be fine. I really do."
The Patriots used 41 different offensive line combinations last season, according to Pro Football Focus, which was 13 more than any other NFL team.
Much of that shakeup was due in part to injuries as starters Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Bryan Stork all missed time. The hope this year, Scarnecchia explained, is that the Patriots will be able to avoid that kind of shuffling and find some consistency in their personnel that'll lead to better results.
"I think that's huge," he said. "I really do. We had so many guys playing multiple positions. We believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can. You can't always do that, but I think that was a huge deal last year. Hopefully we won't get into that sit this year, keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they'll improve."
One obstacle that Scarnecchia may have in finding the right five players is that he has so many to pick from.
Of his seven tackles, there are two clear front-runners for the starting jobs on the right and left sides in Vollmer and Solder, respectively. But on the interior, the picture is more hazy. Rookies Joe Thuney and Ted Karras, and second-year players Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason will compete for guard spots, as will former Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper and Josh Kline, who started 13 games for New England last season. At center, Stork and David Andrews both have an opportunity to prove that they deserve to be the No. 1 man in the middle.
When camp starts, Vollmer, Jackson and Mason will all be on the physically unable to perform list, leaving reps available for their healthier teammates.
Still, it's a large group, and one that Scarnecchia likes. He said he felt each player that was able to participate in spring workouts got better over the course of the OTA period. Now is the time to build on that momentum and hope that five players will eventually separate themselves as the best.
"I mean, look, we're not building rockets," he said. "No, really. It's the truth. 'Step with this foot. Get this shoulder in there.' It's really that. That's the approach we're gonna take.
"We're going to really try to be very precise in what we do and the way we do it. And we're going to try to play as hard as we can. If we can get them to do that, we have a chance. No guarantees, but we have a chance. That's what we're after."