By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Ted Karras has always been one injury away from a major role on the Patriots' offensive line. He's just stuck behind three durable incumbents on the interior.
Unfortunately, starting center David Andrews is facing the first extended absence of his career after a brief hospitalization for a blood clot in his lungs. That presents the first opportunity of Karras' career to start for a full season, if not close to it.
Speaking to 985TheSportsHub.com in the lead-up to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Karras highlighted the importance of being ready as the Next Man Up™ at all times. Despite the inherent toughness and durability of offensive linemen, serious medical issues can strike at any point. The Patriots have had Karras on standby since 2016 for a reason.
"You have to stay ready," Karras said. "I’m a football player, I’m paid to play football. So when it’s my turn to play, I better come in and deliver. That’s my job to do, so I take that very seriously."
Now in his fourth year, Karras has been on the active roster for 45 of 48 possible games in three seasons with the Patriots. In 2018, he got into game action after right guard Shaq Mason went down with a calf injury. He filled in with 29 snaps in Week 8 at the Bills, then started and played 100 percent of the snaps over the next two games (137 total). The Pats went 2-1 in those contests, a 31-17 home win over the Packers and a 34-10 road loss to the Titans.
Karras does have experience starting at center. In 2017, he entered the game for Andrews against the Broncos. He started the next two games snapping to Tom Brady as Andrews dealt with a mystery illness. It's unclear if Andrews' issue was at all related to his recent blood clot.
The Patriots went 2-0 in the games Karras started in 2017, trouncing the Raiders 33-8 in Mexico City and topping the Dolphins 35-17 in Foxboro. Karras did not allow a sack and the Pats averaged 4.91 yards per rushing attempt in those two games. He did, however, make a poorly timed snap against the Dolphins that gifted Miami a defensive touchdown, which cut the Patriots' lead to 14-7 at the time.
If Karras can avoid that kind of catastrophic mistake, there's a chance that the Patriots offense looks the same as it would with Andrews at center. The Patriots have few better internal replacements, regardless of position.
Behind Karras is rookie fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt, who has had some down moments in the preseason. Head coach Bill Belichick noted on Monday that Froholdt is steadily improving but has a long way to go. An extended absence for Andrews opens the door for James Ferentz to make the 53-man roster after he signed from the practice squad last November.
It shouldn't sink your confidence that Karras was a sixth-round pick and has seldom played. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has made a career out of molding lower picks and undrafted free agents into capable, if not excellent linemen. Four of the Patriots' five starters on the O-line (including Karras) were drafted in the third round or lower. Left guard Joe Thuney went 78th overall in 2016, while right guard Shaq Mason went 131st in 2015. Right tackle Marcus Cannon has become a solid starting right tackle as a fifth-round pick in 2011.
Just because Karras couldn't usurp anyone on the depth chart doesn't mean he's incapable of filling in seamlessly for Andrews. But he still needs to prove he can get it done for more than just a couple of games here and there. Just in time for the final year of his rookie contract, Karras gets his first significant test.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].