New England Patriots

  • Before the second offensive series of 2021, Justin Herron jogged off the Patriots’ sideline at Gillette Stadium, summoned as a replacement for Trent Brown. The opener was 9 1/2 minutes old, the Pats trailed the Dolphins, 7-0, and they were already down their starting right tackle due to a calf injury.

    We didn’t see Brown again until mid-November. In Week 10.

    Similarly, two years earlier opposite the same foe in the season’s second game, the Patriots lost their left tackle. After just the 12th play of his second career appearance, coming off a season-costing Achilles’ tear as a rookie, Isaiah Wynn limped into the blue injury tent at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium with a toe injury.

    He didn’t reappear in the lineup until late November. In Week 12.

    Two early-to-mid September games against the Dolphins. Two starting tackles hurt on the first or second possession. Both to miss the next two months.

    Here we are in another September, as another encounter of Pats and Fins looms on the South Florida horizon. Brown and Wynn have since traded places. Trent now aligns left, while Isaiah mans the right side.

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  • For each, the circumstances cited above mark one of numerous instances of practices missed and games lost. Since Brown played in all 19 contests (including playoffs) during a Super Bowl-winning 2018 campaign to earn a monster free-agent deal with the Raiders, he’s averaged eight absences the past three seasons. Wynn, whose fifth-year option was exercised for 2022, has played in just 34 of a possible 65 regular-season games since being drafted in the first round in 2018.

    Bothered by a back issue in recent weeks, Wynn is listed as questionable on the Pats’ most recent injury report. However, he told reporters Friday that he’s “excited to go out there Sunday” against Miami.

    His optimism aside, the Patriots still seem to be in the market for health insurance at the position. On Thursday, they signed longtime tackle Marcus Cannon to their practice squad.

    Cannon was a starter in 69 of 115 games for New England from 2011-19, before opting out due to COVID-19 in 2020. Traded to Houston, he suffered a back injury four games into 2021 and hasn’t been rostered since being released in March.

  • For now, Herron, oft-injured Yodny Cajuste and right guard Michael Onwenu, who has starting experience at right tackle, represent the depth behind Brown and Wynn on the 53-man roster. Both Herron and Cajuste had scares facing the Giants in the preseason opener, requiring medical attention on the field.

    Herron was held out of the following contest vs. Carolina. A third-year pro taken in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Wake Forest, he returned at Las Vegas and led Pats’ offensive linemen by logging 34 snaps.

    As Herron and his line mates sought solutions to an unsteady training camp and preseason, he took time last week to answer some questions about the unit and his role. Following are some of his thoughts.

  • FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: Justin Herron #75 of the New England Patriots looks on during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    On offensive line coaches Matt Patricia and Billy Yates, after playing under Carmen Bricillo as his position coach in 2021:

    “It’s kind of that ‘next man up’ mentality that we talk about (regarding) our players. It’s the same with our coaches. They do a phenomenal job, so there’s never a drop-off…A lot of it, too, is us players holding up the standard…We have great leaders in James (Ferentz), David (Andrews) to teach us how to live up to that standard. The standard (doesn’t change) because it’s held up by the players.”

    On improving individually and preparing as the possible ‘next man up’:

    “The biggest thing to understand is always just try to stay in your lane, focus on what you can control and understand that everyone’s patience is different. And everyone’s opportunity is different, so you have to trust the process and trust your work, trust everything that you’ve done in the offseason and so far this season, continue to get better and when your time comes you’re ready.”

    On his developing ability to play multiple positions after serving as Wake Forest’s left tackle:

    “Some of our older guys do a great job of helping players in new positions and understanding that someone who’s not accustomed to playing that position, they do the best that they can to help. When (coaches) are teaching the play, they don’t say, ‘Hey tackles, just focus on this.’ They’re teaching the whole play to everybody, because you never know where you might be plugged in. So that’s the one thing I love about this place, it teaches you to know what everyone else is doing on the field, because you never know what position they’re going to need you playing at. Obviously, I’m not going to play receiver, but I know from left tackle all the way to right tackle what everyone’s doing on the offensive line.”

  • Herron

    (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    On working to be more consistently comfortable, whether playing on the left or right side:

    “That’s the one thing I’m still learning. I’m still getting there. It’s a lot of studying tape and understanding that I’ve played left for a long time, being able to see what I did at left and, ‘Okay, can I apply that to my right?’ Let me make sure whatever I’m doing, my right complements my left. I played left a little more in college, so a lot of it’s just (studying) film and being critical of yourself. Every rep you get at a position that you’re not natural with, you have to pay attention even more to the details.” 

    On studying Brown and Wynn, who have very different body types and playing styles:

    “I’ve always been of the mind that you can learn anything from anybody, no matter if they’re 6-8 of if they’re 6-2. Now granted there are some things physically that I can or can’t do, compared to other people, which makes offensive line unique because everyone has their own different playing style. But you can always learn something from someone else.”

    On playing tight end in the Patriots ‘jumbo tackle’ package:

    “It’s fun. You get to run around a little bit, sometimes you’re in motion, which is kind of cool. It might seem to be a little difficult, but it’s all about preparation, understanding your job. There are some differences. There are definitely some things about being jumbo tackle that makes it hard compared to a center or a tackle. But every position has its own issues and its own pros and cons.” 

    Bob Socci is in his 10th season calling play-by-play for the Patriots Radio Network on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.