FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots releasing center Bryan Stork on Wednesday, a move that comes as only a mild surprise, it clears a path for second-year man David Andrews to be the team's top player at the position.
Patriots followers got an early look at Andrews in 2015 when he admirably stepped in as the team's starting center for the first 10 games when Stork was on the short-term injured reserve list because of a concussion. Andrews played well, helping the Patriots to a 10-0 start. But when Stork returned, Andrews was quickly moved to a backup role by former offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo,
That was a clear indication of how DeGuglielmo viewed the depth chart at the time, as it seemed like a pretty quick hook for Andrews, even though he had struggled a bit in the 10th game against some of the Buffalo Bills' challenging blitz packages.
But the first sign that things were changing in 2016 came when Andrews and Stork split first-unit repetitions in spring practices. One day it was Stork, the next it was Andrews.
Three factors seemed to be swinging the momentum in Andrews' direction:
1) The return of offensive-line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who had been retired the prior two seasons.
2) Andrews reportedly was an offseason award winner for his solid work in the weight room and in training.
3) Stork's concussion history and also his inconsistency, which included a wild episode at an Aug. 16 practice with the Bears in which he threw punches (that didn't connect) at linebacker John Timu. That upset Bill Belichick.
Belichick and players sometimes relay word that "dependability is more important than ability" and that applies well to Andrews.
Despite playing well at Georgia against some of the top players in the country, he went undrafted in 2015, in part because he was considered undersized (he's listed at 6-foot-3, 295 pounds). But since signing with the Patriots after the draft, I don't recall him missing a practice, as he's shown a steady rate of improvement.
The nephew of longtime NFL head coach Dan Reeves, he has a lunch-pail mentality that seems to have endeared himself to Scarnecchia, who has worked wonders in the past with lesser-heralded linemen such as Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly.
Now the path has been cleared for Andrews to be the team's starting center, which, for those who have watched closely in 2016, is far from a major surprise.