By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
For the second straight day, Patriots center David Andrews did not participate in practice due to a thumb injury. The nature of the injury is currently unknown, and his status remains up in the air for Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
How will Andrews be able to snap the ball, if at all on Sunday? What’s plan B if he can’t go? There could end up being a lot of moving parts on the offensive line when the Patriots take the field this week.
Andrews attempting to play through the injury feels realistic, at least from the outside looking in. The 28-year old is a team captain, and as Cam Newton said on Thursday, “a warrior.” Before a pulmonary embolism cost him his 2019 season, he’d only missed two games in his entire Patriots career.
He’s not the kind of player who will take missing a game lightly. Just the fact he was out on Thursday taking part in the first session of practice is an indication the team hasn’t yet ruled him out.
Still, snapping with a cast on his right hand won’t be easy. He could switch hands and snap lefty, although the NBC Sports Boston cameras caught him giving that a go during Thursday’s session, and it wasn’t great.
If Andrews does play and snaps with his right hand, any cast/brace around his thumb and wrist area will limit the torsion he can get on a shotgun snap. This could lead to the Patriots running more plays under center on Sunday.
Last week, the Patriots usage of shotgun snaps decreased through the first three quarters, which could be tied to whatever injury Andrews suffered. When they did go shotgun, especially in the fourth quarter as they were chasing the lead and used such formations with regularity, some zip did seem to be missing from his snaps.
There are both positive and negative ramifications to this strategy. Fewer shotgun snaps would limit Cam Newton’s designed runs, as well as read options. However, more snaps under center means the Patriots would have plenty of opportunities to use play action, something that has been highly effective through two weeks.
If Andrews ultimately can’t go, the Patriots have three realistic options. They can move Joe Thuney, start Hjalte Froholdt, or add James Ferentz off the practice squad.
The Patriots have explored the idea of Thuney playing center in the past, and he is far and away the best player of the three. Moving him from left guard to center, then plugging in Mike Onwenu next to him would allow New England to still keep their five best (healthy) linemen on the field.
However, as Bill Belichick has said in the past, moving a player’s position leaves “two backups instead of one” in the lineup. You have Thuney, who is in this case a backup center, and then Onwenu, playing as Thuney’s backup. It would also limit or eliminate the Patriots tackle-eligible package with Onwenu as the sixth lineman, which has been effective so far this season.
Then there’s Froholdt, who hasn’t played an offensive snap yet this season. He does have recent center experience though – he played the position for the majority of his senior year at Arkansas in 2018. However, the fourth-round pick missed all of his rookie season due to injury, and still appeared to be raw during training camp this summer.
The Patriots could also temporarily recall Ferentz from the practice squad. A natural center, he has experience in the Patriots system. He’s been with the team on and off since 2017, mostly as a practice squad member. Following an injury to Ted Karras, Ferentz started last year’s game against the Chiefs. However, the Iowa product struggled, allowing four pressures including a sack.
There is also one out-of-the-box option the Patriots could try. If Andrews is comfortable with traditional snaps, he could stay in at center when Newton is directly behind him. When the Patriots want to go shotgun, Andrews and Thuney could switch, keeping Andrews on the field as a valuable communicator, but allowing the healthy Thuney to zip the ball back.
Does this sound familiar? It should to long-time Patriots fans. When Bill Belichick first arrived in New England his center was Damien Woody. As good of a player as Woody was, he had the yips when it came to snapping in shotgun. So when the Patriots wanted to use a shotgun formation, Woody and left guard Mike Compton would switch positions, with Compton taking over as the snapper.
Of course, that’s a slightly different situation. It’s something that the team practiced regularly, and was also back when the shotgun formation was used less than 20-percent of the time. If the Patriots were to bring that strategy back now, Andrews and Thuney would likely have a near-even split (the Patriots have lined up in shotgun 56 percent of the time so far this season). This is the “break glass in case of emergency” option for Sunday.
Andrews is one of the most important players on the Patriots offense, which was demonstrated by his absence last year. Losing him for even a game is not something the team will take lightly, and will have an impact on how the offense looks this week. How much can the Patriots minimize that impact? That’s a key question leading up to Sunday.