By: Russ Goldman
After watching Tom Brady being harassed the majority of the first half against the Detroit Lions, I can understand why fans, and media members would be concerned about the Patriots offensive line. However, the Patriots have consistently had a good offensive line over Bill Belichick’s tenure as head coach. I have confidence that this year’s line can get the job done and protect Brady, and I don’t think there is a need to panic regarding the Patriots offensive line.
It was guys like Stephen Neal that have made New England’s offensive line so effective. (FILE:Icon/SMI)
Over the past decade, the Patriots offensive line has been solid. Some seasons have been a little better than others, but this unit overall has been consistent and there are a few reasons why.
First, the Patriots have had top draft picks as integral parts of this unit. In the beginning of the last decade you had center Damien Woody who was a 1st round draft pick and taken 17th overall in 1999. In 2001, offensive tackle, Matt Light was drafted in the second round. In 2005, offensive guard Logan Mankins was drafted in the first round.
To be a successful line I do think you need some highly talented lineman to anchor this unit. The Patriots definitely have had that leadership.
Another reason for the offensive line success has been the Patriots ability to find diamonds in the rough, with lower draft picks and un-drafted players to fill out the rest of the line. The Patriots were fortunate to get Dan Koppen in the 5th round in 2003, and who is still your starting center. They have also had over the years un-drafted players like Stephen Neal and Joe Andruzzi make considerable contributions to the line.
The last reason has to be offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. It is pretty well known that he has “coached up” many of the lineman that might not have elite ability, and made them more than functional. So, the fact that Scarnecchia is still coaching the line gives me confidence that he will have this line ready to go for the opening game against the Dolphins.
Now, just to demonstrate the mix of the offensive line over the years, I am going to list the offensive line starting lineups in the 3 Super Bowl Championship seasons. You will notice a pattern with all 3 teams. Each unit had a mix of high draft picks and diamonds in the rough.
2001 – Matt Light, Mike Compton Damien Woody, Joe Andruzzi, and Greg Robinson-Randall
2003 – Matt Light, Russ Hochstein, Dan Koppen, Joe Andruzzi, and Tom Ashworth
2004 – Matt Light, Joe Andruzzi, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, and Brandon Gorin.
So this season the Patriots have a similar mix to their offensive line going into the season. You have Koppen who is a fifth round draft pick and Dan Connolly who is an un-drafted player. To balance it off you have Light, Mankins, Solder and Vollmer who were all drafted within the first 2 rounds.
The common denominator with all of these offensive lines is Scarnecchia. He has proven to be able to work with these lineman, and get them to effectively protect Brady year after year.
Now, if you want to focus on 2007 in the Super Bowl against the Giants and the pre-season game against the Lions, you can go ahead. You can pick out the few bad games, but over the course of the last 10 years the offensive line as a whole has been solid and consistent.
I have no reason to doubt that the line will be able to do its job this season. If history is any indication, I think by the time the season gets here, they’ll be just fine.