Patriots offensive linemen work hard to be versatile

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Patriots offensive linemen work hard to be versatile

FOXBORO -- The numbers on the jerseys of Patriots offensive linemen have been a little like those on the ping pong balls that decide lottery winners. When lined up, their combinations are rarely the same.

Centers are playing guard. Guards are playing tackle. And tackles have been hard to find for the Patriots during training camp. They're all mixing and matching at different spots, and with different groups at different times.

It's a unit that has been hit hard by injury -- Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Kyle Hix, Dustin Waldron , Markus Zusevics and Matt Kopa all missed practice on Wednesday, and Brian Waters still hasn't reported -- leaving backups to fill in, and often at more than one spot.

Much in the way Vince Wilfork refuses to specify his position -- he'd rather give himself the more general title of "defensive lineman" -- the big men on the line for the Patriots' offense should not be held to positional designations. They are simply "offensive linemen."

Nick McDonald has been playing both right guard and left tackle for the Pats in the last two days against the Saints. He got a start at center for the Patriots last season so if there's an injury, he could end up there, too.

"It's very important," said McDonald of his versatility. "Most guys play multiple positions. That's what it takes to play in this league. Guys gotta know multiple spots, whether it's guard-center, guard-tackle, whatever. Everybody needs to know different spots."

McDonald played tackle at Grand Valley State University, but now he's backing up the man who has suddenly become one of the most indispensable players on the team, one of its few true, healthy tackles, Nate Solder.

McDonald says that he's always known tackle assignments because of all the communication that goes on between tackles and guards, but that doesn't mean he isn't studying up on his new job as the quarterback's blind-side protector.

"My head's always in a book, it's gotta be," McDonald said. "You always gotta keep working. You don't know everything so you always gotta be studying."

Ryan Wendell has played multiple spots on the line. Ditto for Dan Koppen. Dan Connolly has, too, seeing time at both guard and center.

"Every day it's a different unit, a different combination of guys," Connolly said. "Somebody new at center, somebody new at guard, and I think that's helped a lot. We all get used to playing with one another and we'll all build on that as the season goes along."

Tom Brady has had words with his lineman at different points during camp. And at times -- like in practice Wednesday when the team tried to run a screen -- it has looked out of sync.

The best thing for them would be to get Mankins, Vollmer and Waters back on the field. But until then, they'll make due with what they have, trying to get by as they all learn multiple spots.

"It's definitely not an easy job to do," Connolly said. "But it's what's expected of us and it's what we have to do to have a job on this team."

Jerod Mayo: 'Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year'

Jerod Mayo: 'Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year'

Jerod Mayo still has faith in New England Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones.

The cornerback, who was the Patriots' top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, struggled mightily in his rookie season. He fumbled his way out of a role on special teams, where he served as a returner.

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He then failed to perform at nickel cornerback, and the Patriots traded for Eric Rowe, who pushed Jones down the depth chart and often onto the inactives on game day. Jones' emotional outburst during Week 5 when he got ejected for punching Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins didn't help.

Despite all that, Mayo thinks Jones will turn things around.

"I think Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year," Mayo said in the latest edition of "The Ex Pats" podcast. "I want people to remember a rookie [Matthew] Slater. A rookie Matt Slater was terrible. He would sit here on this podcast and tell you he's terrible, and I think Cyrus Jones is more athletic than Matthew Slater. I think -- I know for a fact, because I've seen it time and time again, the biggest leap not only in athleticsm but also in confidence is from year one to year two."

Jones admitted to the Baltimore Sun that his rookie was "hell." He added he felt "embarrassed." The 23-year-old cornerback said he didn't feel like he was a part of New England's Super Bowl LI win.

“Failure is another opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” Jones wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post.

Mayo seems to think Jones has learned his lesson, and will rebound with the help of Bill Belichick. And the Patriots may need Butler to be the most-improved player. Malcolm Butler's future with New England has become uncertain, and the remaining top cornerbacks are over 6-feet.

The Patriots need a slot corner. Jones is the next man up.

"As much as the media has kind of battered this young kid, Bill's going to boost him up this entire offseason," Mayo said. "Bill -- he's the best at putting lowlights up after a game . . . But during the offseason, he kind of -- it's individualized coach. He knows this guy's confidence is in the toilet. He's going to boost him up as much as possible.

"You know [Jones] can play football. He played in the SEC. He played on the top team on the country, and was a standout performer. So this is a confidence issue. This entire thing is a confidence issue, and I think they fix that."

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

Report: Patriots asked Seahawks about a trade for Richard Sherman

PHOENIX -- The Patriots pulled off what many considered a surprise free-agent signing when they acquired corner Stephon Gilmore. As it turns out, before they picked up the former Bills cover man, they inquried about a separate move that would have been even more eye-opening. 

According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, ahead of coming to a deal with Gilmore, the Patriots were among the teams that spoke to the Seahawks about a potential trade for Richard Sherman.

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During the NFC coaches breakfast on Wednesday morning at the Arizona Biltmore, Seattle coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that multiple teams have contacted the Seahawks about Sherman. But, Carroll said, "I don't see anything happening at all."

Sherman, who turns 29 next season, will make $11.431 million for 2017. He's due $11 million in the final year of his contract in 2018.