FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ offensive line was a revolving door last season. Or, more accurately, a broken revolving door.
Thanks to a rash of injuries and changing game plans, the 2015 Patriots fielded 41 different offensive line combinations — by far the most of any NFL team, according to Pro Football Focus — and the results weren’t pretty: Tom Brady was nearly killed in the AFC Championship Game, and O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo received the ax one day later.
To replace DeGuglielmo, head coach Bill Belichick brought back old friend Dante Scarnecchia, who’d coached New England’s offensive linemen for 15 years before retiring in 2014.0
Scarnecchia’s top priority? Establishing the type of continuity the unit sorely lacked last season.
?I think that?s huge,” the 68-year-old coach said Wednesday, one day before the Patriots’ first full-team practice of training camp. “I really do. They had so many guys playing multiple positions, and we believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can. You can?t always do that, but I think that was a huge deal last year, and hopefully we won?t get into that situation this year. Keep working with the same guys day in and day out, hopefully they?ll improve.”
Though the Patriots’ current crop of O-lineman features just four holdovers from Scarnecchia’s previous tenure — Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline — the coach said he isn’t worried about teaching his preferred technique.
“Look, we ain’t building rockets,” he said.
Instead, Scarnecchia plans to use training camp and the preseason to identify his starting five — and stick with it as best he can.
?I don?t think it is hard to develop (continuity),” Scarnecchia said. “I think that we?re going to try to keep the guys that, whoever?s the first five, we?re going to try to keep those guys together as much as we can. It?s not always practical to do that, and there?s competition at multiple positions, so there may be some in and out that way.
“But the thing is, if we can keep the left tackle playing the left tackle and the right tackle (playing right tackle) and try to keep the guards on the same side as much as we can, I think that that?ll really help everybody. Now, there?s got to be some guys that swing around, because we only end up with eight or nine lineman, but I think that it?ll be fine. I really do.”
Scarnecchia should be set at the tackle spots, where Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are locks to start if healthy. The interior line will feature some of the most intriguing roster battles in all of camp, however, with Bryan Stork and David Andrews duking it out at center and a slew of guards (Kline, Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason, 2016 draft picks Joe Thuney and Ted Karras, offseason acquisition Jonathan Cooper) all fighting for reps.
?He?s got to be a very consistent player,” Scarnecchia said of what he’s looking for in a starting guard. “He?s got to be a physical player. He?s got to be very tough. He?s got to be able to play as mistake-free football as he possibly can. Those are the things that we covet. Those are the traits that we value so much. And those are the guys that are going to be up there. Believe me, they?ll be the guys.”
Thumbnail photo via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports Images