Next in a series of positional analysis for the 2001 New England Patriots. Today’s feature: Offensive line
It all happened so suddenly.
Suddenly the Patriots have a 1,000-yard rusher. Suddenly the Patriots have a Pro Bowl quarterback. Suddenly the Patriots have far fewer sacks allowed.
And suddenly the Patriots have an offensive line coach who isn’t the least popular employee in the organization.
You have to wonder if it was one thing, two things, or several things that caused the 2001 Patriot offensive line to suddenly jell and morph into a very good unit. They aren’t great, and the Patriots have had better blockers and better blocking units in their history. But the line got the job done this year, and while they weren’t the main reason why the Patriots became world champions, they certainly were a big factor.
Perhaps the biggest plus for the offensive line was the arrival of rookie Matt Light, the second round pick out of Purdue. Light now looms to be the heir apparent to the chief guardian of the quarterback job held so honorably for so long by Bruce Armstrong. After being Drew Brees’ guardian at Purdue, Light had a solid rookie campaign with the Patriots.
Light is a massive power blocker, and was a force in opening up holes for the running backs. The knocks on Light are lack of footspeed (which is crucial in dealing with quick defensive ends like the Jets’ John Abraham) and his penchant for getting hurt. Light missed most of training camp, some of the regular season and the second half of the Super Bowl because of injuries.
Mike Compton was part of the free agent patrol, coming over from Detroit. Compton also got hurt in the preseason, but managed to play most of the regular season. Compton enjoyed a solid season, and along with Light gave the Patriots their best left side of the offensive line since the days of John Hannah. Compton also doubled as shotgun snapper, something that annoyed Bill Belichick, but something that the Patriots simply made work.
Damien Woody remains one of the best young centers in the NFL, and a Pro Bowl should someday be in his future. Aside from not snapping shotgun well, Woody is the prime force for Antowain Smith to pound the ball up the middle. He is the anchor of the line, someone who has matured into a veteran leader and clubhouse spokesman. While it is still unusual for a team to use a first round pick on a center, Woody has at least made the pick worthwhile with steady improvement over his three years in the NFL.
The steady improvement and surprising good year from Joe Andruzzi will always be overshadowed by September 11th. The lasting images of the Patriot right guard will always be he and his FDNY brothers coming out as honorary captains at the Jets home game 12 days after the dastardly acts. All three Andruzzi brothers, one of whom came within minutes of dying in one of the collapsing World Trade Center towers, went to Super Bowl XXXVI to watch Joe and his team win a Vince.
Andruzzi was the symbol of ineptness in 2000 on the Patriot offensive line, but somehow turned himself around and had a good 2001. It’s not real clear how or why, except that it might be that he had a better surrounding crew and that last year’s gruesome gang made each other look awful.
One reason why Andruzzi had a good 2001 season might have been the development of right tackle Greg Robinson-Randall. One of the stars of the 2000 training camp, Randall proved that 2000 was no fluke by starting at right tackle all season long. The massive tackle from Michigan State improved in all areas of his game, especially in run blocking. Some of Smith’s key runs this year were around right end, including game-clinching runs against Buffalo, Oakland and Pittsburgh.
There really isn’t much else to say about this bunch except “great job”. Most of the discussion surrounds what lies ahead for 2002, and what will become of people like Adrian Klemm, Grey Ruegamer, Kenyatta Jones and Grant Williams.
Klemm was the first draft pick of the Belichick era in Foxborough, and he is shaping up to be a first class bust. Klemm has battled injuries in both his seasons, and may never get a shot to play left tackle with the Patriots thanks to the arrival of Light. It stood to reason that the drafting of Light immediately made Klemm a wasted pick. Maybe, but then maybe not.
There has been talk about converting Klemm to a guard, and he could be ready to step in to take one of the guard positions if he is healthy and can learn the position. The likely choice might be right guard, as the veteran Compton would be the better choice to leave alone where he is. But having Klemm wind up as a second string tackle is not what you want out of a second round draft pick. Klemm must find a way to crack the starting lineup somehow, or Belichick will likely send Klemm packing.
Jones was an intriguing draft pick this year, and spent much of the year like Klemm – hurt. A project from South Florida taken in the fourth round, Jones was given a fair shot at winning a guard job. But Jones turned into just that – a project. If Klemm does right himself and forces himself into the mix, Jones may have a brief Patriot career.
Ruegamer, a free spirit free agent, had a good year as backup guard and center. He should stick with the team in a backup capacity. Williams has probably seen his last action as a Patriot in the Super Bowl, but filled in admirably for Light and sprang Kevin Faulk on the run that set up Tom Brady’s eight-yard pass to David Patten just before halftime. It was a nice way to remember Williams, who had an otherwise mediocre Patriot career when he was signed as a free agent in 2000 in the hopes that he would be Armstrong’s replacement.
The Patriots will likely keep Lonie Paxton as their long snapper. The problem with Paxton, however, is that the NFL rules committee may soon have to look into issuing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for making snow angels in the end zone after walkoff game-winning field goals. That sort of thing is just as disgraceful as that stupid Redskin Fun Bunch that started all this end zone celebration stuff.
Yes, we’re kidding. Paxton ought to give his teammates snow angel lessons, and hope that they have a reason to do it many times in the future.
Dante Scarnecchia is no longer at the bottom of the Patriot food chain, thanks in part to Terry Glenn. But Scarnecchia, one of perhaps two men common to all three Patriot Super Bowls (along with Bucko Kilroy), had some of the heat taken off him this year thanks to the nice job his squad did this year. As we said in the top of this article, the development was so sudden. Maybe it was both Light and Compton that gave the Patriots the magic missing ingredient they badly needed.
And if that isn’t enough, some sources say that if Charlie Weis does indeed leave for a head coaching job, Scarnecchia would be the heir presumptive to the offensive coordinator job. Now how’s that for a one-year turnaround?
Almost as good as the turnaround for a line that used to be simply offensive.
Next feature: Defensive line.