For the past three seasons in New England, 2016 draft classmates Joe Thuney (fourth round) and Ted Karras (sixth) have had very different roles to open their professional careers.
While Thuney was inserted into the starting lineup from day 1, Karras has had to learn on the job to be a versatile backup to all three interior line positions. As such Thuney started at left guard in all 48 regular season games and nine postseason games the Patriots have played over three seasons. Meanwhile Karras has just five career starts – four at right guard and one at center – while also playing a reserve role in all of those same 57 games.
This spring, though, things have looked a little different along the line for two of New England’s most durable players.
With Trent Brown having moved on to Oakland, Isaiah Wynn still working back from a torn Achilles that cost the 2018 top pick his rookie season and veteran free agent signing Jared Veldheer having retired last month, Thuney took left tackle reps protecting the quarterbacks’ blindside in OTAs and minicamp.
That’s left Karras to slide into an only slightly more regular role in what’s usually Thuney’s left guard spot.
“It’s been good,” Karras said during minicamp, acknowledging that others like veteran Brian Schwenke are also getting competitive reps. “I get to play with those guys out there at left guard. I’m pretty much playing all the positions like I normally do. I’m just working to get better every day and at every position. It’s been a good spring.”
Though Karras is clearly proud of the role he’s held for Patriots legendary line coach Dante Scarnecchia over the last three years, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’d like to be more than a backup.
“Absolutely. I try to play my best, regardless. I don’t really think about that, but I’m trying to play my best football and help the team win and carve out a role. It’s a competitive business and you have to carve out a role for yourself in this profession,” Karras said of what could be an increased role in 2019 depending on what happens with both Thuney and Wynn.
Given his extensive study of the line to learn all his duties over the years, Karras is also more than willing to help Thuney as he bumps out to tackle, the spot he actually played at an All-ACC level during his final season at N.C. State.
“We all need help sometimes with different calls and stuff,” Karras said. “But Joe is an awesome guy and doing a really good job. He’s a really good teammate and friend of mine. We’re just working together this spring and going into (training) camp we’ll see what happens.”
But even as he looks ahead to training camp in the end of July, being well-versed in life in New England Karras doesn’t allow himself to look ahead to what might be an expanded role or starting job at guard in this coming fall. For now, it’s just about getting reps, getting better and doing his job, whatever that may be.
“Nothing is set in stone. I have the luxury of playing when I’m told to play,” Karras concluded with a smirk. “It’s nice. So I go out there when I’m told and try to do my very best and put my very best football on film.”