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February 17, 2004
The True Definition Of Yeoman Work
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2003 New England Patriots. Today: offensive line.

Webster\'s Dictionary defines \"yeoman work\" as \"one that performs great and loyal service\".

Alongside the definition are the faces of five men. Without sounding like Grantland Rice and his \"Four Horsemen\" soliloquy, these men are named Light, Hochstein, Koppen, Andruzzi and Ashworth. And these are not aliases.

What they are are now more legendary than these five blocks of granite or those guys who got their picture taken riding horses. And certainly, these men have transcended this bunch of swine from our nation\'s capital.

While the rest of our country celebrates men named Ogden, Faneca, Mawae, Shields and Roaf, the Super Bowl Champion Patriots believe that the league can have these guys. They\'ll take the ones they have, and happily. And why not?

About the only thing not to like about this offensive line is that Damien Woody, who missed most of the playoffs due to an injury suffered in the freezing cold against Tennessee, is a free agent and may have played his last game as a Patriot. Other than that, the Patriot offensive line handled two of the three best defensive fronts in the NFL on their way to being crowned the league champ for the second time in three years.

And while the rest of the league is still saying \"Who dey?\" for the 6,384th time, Patriot Nation drinks the good health of the venerable Dante Scarnecchia, who has more time put into this organization than anyone else who isn\'t a radio broadcaster. The only man to coach the Patriots in all their four Super Bowls, he stands out as a top position coach in the NFL, and one of the nicest guys you\'d ever want to meet.

It is unbelievable that just a few years ago, under the Pete Carroll regime, Scarnecchia was vilified as a coach without a position he was truly good at coaching. He was perceived as someone who was still an assistant coach only because he had longevity with the organization. When he replaced Paul Boudreau as offensive line coach in 1999 after spending the previous two years as special teams coach, it seemed to many that the Patriots were replacing an Edsel with a Studebaker.

Five years later, the results are unmistakable. Draftees Woody and Matt Light, plus veterans Mike Compton and Joe Andruzzi have been the most solid blocks (no pun intended) of all. Right tackle remains an unsettled position since the release of Greg Randall in 2002. With these four men as the \"core\", the Patriots came together in 2001 and stayed cohesive and tight, even in this 2003 season where injuries dictated changes in personnel, but not the results.

The right tackle position remains most intriguing. Adrian Klemm still can\'t nail that job down. Kenyatta Jones was released after a wacky incident involving his agent, who claimed that Jones tossed a panful of boiling hot water on him. The man who emerged from this mess is Tom Ashworth, who took control of the right tackle job in Week 2 and held it for the rest of the year.

Any questions as to whether or not Ashworth did his job well can be answered in the Super Bowl. The entire league now knows that you can run on pass rusher extraordinare Julius Peppers. Ashworth beat the tar out of Peppers all game long, opening gaping holes for Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk. He kept Tom Brady well protected, and the only time Brady had to roll to his left, he hit Deion Branch for a 52-yard gain.

Compton was lost early in the season. Woody wound up playing left guard for most of the season, opening the door for draftee Dan Koppen, he of the same BC Eagle pedigree as Woody. All Koppen did was solidify the position to the point where it would not be devastating if Woody did bolt as a free agent. And, unlike Woody, Koppen can snap shotgun. The Pro Bowl may be in this man\' s future some day.


Brady Calling Signals with Koppen at Center during the Superbowl CLICK HERE To Purchase this photo!
Andruzzi isn\'t the sentimental favorite as he was in 2001. Age is becoming a slight factor for this guy, who is perhaps a better pass blocker than a run blocker. Woody is still considered by many as the best overall Patriot lineman. Woody, Koppen and Andruzzi form a nice inner threesome, but the Patriots don\'t have the huge rushing stats to bear that out. These guys are usually charged with keeping rushers out of Brady\'s face, and they do that generally pretty well.

As for the man who keeps rushers off of Brady\'s back, Matt Light showed great improvement in 2003. If his coiffure needs help, his blocking technique generally doesn\'t. His biggest rap was that speed rushers could easily beat him, but he did well against them this year. In the postseason, he handled Kevin Carter, Dwight Freeney and Mike Rucker in successive games, and came out on top in all matchups.

And what more can you say about Russ Hochstein. He made both Kris Jenkins and Warren Sapp look like total fools. This unassuming man can rightfully lay claim to one of the most noteworthy performances by an offensive lineman in Super Bowl history. He can\'t truly be judged on a complete season, as he played steadily only after Woody went down early in the postseason. But he had a terrific postseason nonetheless, and the Patriot brain trust cannot help but stand up and take notice.

Despite the great work of these unheralded guys, offensive line is an area which could use some looking at come draft day.

Bill Belichick must decide if the future of his offensive line is Ashworth, Hochstein, and former CSUB wrestler Stephen Neal. The latter went the way of Compton early on in the season, and never got a chance to show off his immense potential. But are Hochstein and Neal the guards of the future? Is Ashworth the long-term answer at right tackle? Is he really better than Randall, who became the starter in Houston?

Woody will probably dictate how this plays out. Nevertheless, with the four picks in the first two rounds, Belichick might want to consider drafting either a guard or tackle, or maybe both. If the primo running back does indeed come to New England, who blocks for him is terribly important. And if there is a commitment to be made to run block as well as pass block, the current starting five won\'t get it done.

With Scarnecchia at the helm of this group, and with Light and Compton providing veteran leadership, a few young bucks could come in and contribute right away much like Koppen did this year. Or, if the organization is so high on Neal that he will be at the ready to challenge for a guard job, then draft only a tackle. Or, maybe everyone is so happy with long time backups Ashworth and Hochstein that they might just stick as starters in 2004.

It\'s almost a win-win for the Patriots, even if Woody leaves. You have Neal and Compton coming back. You have possibilities in the draft. And if all else fails, remember that the patchwork line you ended the season with won the biggest game of them all.

Zero postseason sacks of Brady. That, my friend, is yeoman work.

Next installment: defensive line.


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