New England Patriots

Tom Brady of the New England Patriots huddles with David Andrews and Shaq Mason during the second half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

David Andrews is unquestionably a tough loss for the Patriots’ offensive line. But the team has been in a “next man up” spot before and they’re usually prepared for it.

In the case of Andrews, that should be no different.

Personal health is the only concern now for the Patriots’ starting center from the past three seasons, who attended practice as a spectator less than 24 hours after being released from hospitalization to treat a blood clot in his lungs. As for football, Andrews faces a recovery of at least three months, during which he can’t participate in any football activities. The Patriots could name Andrews to the 53-man roster then place him on injured reserve so they could designate him to return, but such a move may not be necessary.

Either way, eyes are now on fourth-year pro Ted Karras to assume the starting center role after three seasons as a backup and occasional fill-in starter. As you might expect, reporters swarmed the offensive linemen’s lockers to a much higher degree than usual on Tuesday.

“Ooh, looks like I’ve got some new friends,” quipped Karras as he shuffled around the horde of cameras into his locker. The usually gregarious Karras is almost always available to talk about pretty much anything but football. Now, he faces a lot more real football questions.

Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots guard Ted Karras against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Jan 21, 2018; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots guard Ted Karras against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

But those won’t really be answered until he’s on the field. Still, it’s easy to be confident that the transition from Andrews to Karras can be largely seamless. Karras acknowledges that his job has changed as the likely starting center and signal-caller for the O-line. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t spent three seasons preparing for it.

“You’ve got to make the calls [at the line of scrimmage], but I’ve been around here a while,” Karras said. “I’m just coming to work every day. It’s not that much different.

“You’ve got to snap the ball, though. That’s the biggest difference.”

Unfortunately, Patriots fans with strong memories for the negative will point to Karras’ botched snap in Week 12 of the 2017 season as a reason for concern. Karras snapped the ball early and past Tom Brady, leading directly to a scoop-and-score for the Dolphins. The Patriots won the game 35-17, anyway, and besides that one glaring mistake the Patriots offense rolled along like normal during Andrews’ brief two-game absence.

This is obviously a little different. It remains to be seen how it looks with Karras at center full-time, especially with an almost entirely new stable of weapons for Brady from two seasons ago.

There’s a reason “next man up” has become such a popular mantra, though. It really does work that way most of the time with the Patriots. Karras may be the most experienced, prepared in-house replacement on the roster.

“We’ve got tremendous confidence in any guy that steps on that field,” said right guard Shaq Mason. “We know that we’ve gone through situations before and repetitions and things like that.”

Nov 19, 2017; Mexico City: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady awaits the snap from center Ted Karras during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Estadio Azteca. New England won 33-8. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

Nov 19, 2017; Mexico City: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady awaits the snap from center Ted Karras during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Estadio Azteca. New England won 33-8. (Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

The balancing force in all this, of course, is offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. This would be far from the first time that “Scar” molded an unheralded prospect into a dependable starter. Karras has been marinating under Scarnecchia for three years, stuck behind three incumbents who have been durable and excellent at their jobs.

“Coach Scarnecchia is an amazing coach, and a guy I respect wholeheartedly and try to take everything he says to heart and implement it myself,” Karras said. “I’ve gotten a lot better under his tutelage and I hope I can continue to improve every day.”

The 2019 season marks the first opportunity for Karras and Scarnecchia’s work together to pay off in a major way. There’s little reason to believe Karras can’t slide in and do the job.

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 matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.