One more injury and the New England Patriots would've been forced to put a tight end at offensive tackle. With Sebastian Vollmer dealing with a head injury, Marcus Cannon dealing with a toe injury, Tre' Jackson dealing with a knee injury and Nate Solder and Ryan Wendell both on injured reserve, the Patriots were forced to get creative with their offensive line against the Washington Redskins.
That's what happens when you're left with only five healthy and active offensive linemen. It got so bad against the Redskins that center Bryan Stork was playing right tackle and right tackle Cameron Fleming was lined up on the left side.
The Patriots have been able to overcome injuries on the offensive line in the past, thanks in large part to the versatility of their backups.
"It means a lot," Fleming said of the line's ability to step up. "We're all prepared to play. We're all ready to contribute to the team and it means a lot that we were able to keep Tom [Brady] clean because that's the name of the game."
The problem is when there just aren't any backups left.
They'll get back both Cannon and Jackson at some point, but the current situation is dire. The Patriots have been shuffling offensive linemen all season, and that shuffling will continue Sunday against the New York Giants, as Christopher Price of WEEI.com points out:
It's clear the Patriots have to do something to address their lack of depth up front, but the question is what. There are some practice squad players to watch, including Chris Barker and Blaine Clausell.
Barker has spent more than a year in the Patriots system on the practice squad, so his experience would be very valuable in a pinch—and let's face it, if he can't get on the active roster under these circumstances, why on God's green earth have they hung onto him on the practice squad for so long?
Clausell is a relative newcomer to the practice squad, but joined the Patriots at the beginning of the season after being claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens. The rookie has not played an NFL snap yet, so it would be very interesting to see him inserted into the lineup right now.
There is also the possibility that the Patriots could add a name from outside the organization. Finding high-profile, experienced free agents at this time of the year is about as rare as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster, but there are some names to keep in consideration.
Former San Francisco 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis is still a free agent, although he took time away from football to "allow my brain and body a chance to heal." He didn't quite get the full year off he was hoping for, but maybe he could be enticed out of retirement by a chance to join an 8-0 Super Bowl contender.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Anthony Collins is also a free agent after being released by his team in March before the start of free agency. The 30-year-old veteran was cut one year after signing a five-year, $30 million contract, and hasn't drawn much (or any) interest on the open market.
But neither of those tackles were very good last year—which probably explains why they are both free agents. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins and Davis ranked 47th and 51st in pass-blocking efficiency, respectively.
The good thing for the Patriots is that they should get healthier over the next few weeks. It's hard to predict how Vollmer will recover from the concussion, but Cannon and Jackson were both spotted in the Patriots locker room Monday, and the two are "making progress," according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.
With that in mind, the smartest move might be to not make a move. Obviously, they need some depth, so Barker and Clausell's call-up to the main roster might be coming sooner than later, but those don't need to be long-term fixes. The Patriots can patch things up in the short term and wait for good health over time.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained via team news release and all advanced statistics obtained via ProFootballFocus.com.