Tag Archives: Dante Scarnecchia

Despite Patriots Loss, End of Dynasty Talk Can Wait For Some Other Day

Bob George
January 6, 2020 at 10:29 am ET

End of an era?  Save that for March when some famous quarterback’s contract expires.

It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s over.  No more football in New England until this summer.  The 2019 season came to an abrupt end on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, as former Patriot Mike Vrabel led his Tennessee Titans to a hard fought 20-13 win over the former Super Bowl Champion Patriots, sending his charges to Baltimore to take on the top-seeded Ravens next weekend.  Derrick Henry rushed for 182 yards last night, but the Titans’ defense may give up 282 rushing yards to Lamar Jackson next week.  That’s Tennessee’s problem, not New England’s.

What is their problem is what to do moving forward.  This team turned out to be one of the worst 12-4 teams in recent NFL history.  This season was clearly mischaracterized by the ridiculously easy early first half of the season, where the Patriots went 8-0 and beat teams that woebegone UMass might have given a good game.  Once the good teams started lining up on the opposite side of the ball, things began to change.  The last two games, home losses to Miami and Tennessee, revealed to the pro football world what the 2019 Patriots really were.  Key injuries, key retirements, and a general misjudging of the talent on this team all combined to lead to their early playoff exit, something not seen around these parts in exactly a decade when Baltimore came into Gillette Stadium and blew out the Patriots, 33-14 in the last Wild Card round game this team has played until last night.

That said, here are the five main reasons why the team crashed and burned and saw their Super Bowl championship come to an end last night.

#5 – Offensive line needed more than just Coach Scar

 This was a bad year for the offensive line, period.  David Andrews was lost in training camp for the season due to blood clots in his lungs (more on him later), which got things off to a bad start.  But basically, this unit never jelled at all.  For much of the season, the line started guys like Ted Karras, Marshall Newhouse and Jermaine Eluemunor.  Starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon missed significant playing time.  Wynn came back for the Dallas game, but the team went only 3-4 after he came back.   Cannon had a substandard season at right tackle when he did play.  Karras is simply no Andrews, and Newhouse and Eluemunor were stopgap fill-ins, nothing more.  Except for a few nice runs by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead here and there, this line had a bad year.  Tom Brady’s pass blocking protection this year was mostly non-existent (his season passer rating of 88 was his lowest since 2013).  If Brady either retires or winds up leaving the Patriots, one has to wonder if the bad performance of the offensive line will be a major factor.

#4 – A vastly overrated defense, totally exposed in the end

 They were being held up there with the 1985 Bears, 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers as one of the best one-season defenses in NFL history.  They were 8-0, and fantasy owners who had the Patriot defense (Yours Truly included) enjoyed astonishingly high numbers.  Then along came Lamar Jackson and everything changed.

Granted, Jackson has made a lot of defenses look like a combination of matadors, young guys suddenly looking old as dirt, and befuddled dopes who would have problems stopping a high school option offense.  But the Patriots always seemed to have an answer for everything.  They were powerless to stop Jackson, but that soon begat getting shredded at home by Patrick Mahomes and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and bludgeoned by Mark Ingram, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry.  They could not stop a final scoring drive at home from Miami with a first-round bye on the line.  All-Pro Stephon Gilmore suddenly looked like 1997 top draft pick Chris Canty when trying to cover Devante Parker in that hideous regular season finale.

Explaining the offensive line was easy.  Explaining the collapse of the defense isn’t.  Granted, the unit played okay Saturday night and allowed only 13 points, but stopping Ryan Tannehill (previously 0-6 lifetime against the Patriots) is like Dietrich Wise or Adam Butler trying to stop a six-year old kid from entering a candy store.  Henry won the game for Tennessee Saturday night, not Tannehill, and they even allowed some Harvard grad named Anthony Firkser to catch a touchdown and make a key third down catch late in the game.  There was no clutch in this group down the stretch, and all the big plays that are usually made were not made this year.

Wow.  First Fitzpatrick, and now Firkser.  Let’s send some more Patriot scouts to Cambridge from now on.

#3 – Brady cannot totally blame his receivers for lack of chemistry

 Late in his career, the Celtics allowed the late, great John Havlicek to report to training camp late.  He simply needed more rest at his advancing age.  Problem is, the last two Celtics teams he played on were knocked out of the playoffs by Philadelphia, and failed to make the playoffs in his final season.  Was Havlicek reporting late the reason why?  Certainly not, as the front office made one bad trade after another and by 1978, the team was so bad that perhaps Red Auerbach could be forgiven if he yelled “Russell is not coming through that door!  Neither is Heinsohn, Cousy, or anyone named Jones!”

For the last two offseasons, Brady has missed all of the voluntary OTAs.  He is spending more time with his wife Gisselle and his children, consorting with his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, and working with his personal quarterback coach, former Red Sox lefty reliever Tom House (whose only other claim to fame is catching Hank Aaron’s 715th career home run in 1974 in the Atlanta Braves bullpen).  At Brady’s age, you have to figure that he’s earned it.  He’s the GOAT, and he doesn’t need all this voluntary offseason stuff that the younger, more mortal players need.

But as the Ghost of Christmas Past told Ebenezer Scrooge in one of the many versions of A Christmas Carol (this is the version that stars George C. Scott as the Humbug Homey), “You have shown me what you have gained!  Now I will show you what you have lost!”

Brady gains valuable family time, and is totally comfortable with Guerrero and House, as most of us all know (especially if you watched that Facebook feature Tom Vs Time two years ago).  But his not attending the OTAs meant that he didn’t get a chance to build a rapport with Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Gunner Olszewski and Matt La Cosse.  In past years, this was why a Wes Welker could be cast aside and a Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman could be groomed to take his place.  By not attending the OTAs, Brady never got that time in.

As a result, in most of the games played, all defenses had to do was account for Edelman and James White, and that was that.  Brady was never on the same page with anyone other than those two veterans.  You can’t count Antonio Brown in this discussion, as he was only here for one week.  But his choosing to spend time away from Foxborough in the offseason did have some repercussions.

#2 – Injuries to Andrews and Develin were not overcome

 Andrews, as previously stated, had blood clots in his lungs and was declared out for the season in training camp.  That left all his responsibilities to Karras, and the dropoff was noticeable.  The center does a lot more than snap the ball.  He calls out blocking assignments and sets the line for the next play.  Of course, he also has to be a good blocker.  In both areas, Karras simply did not account for the loss of Andrews.  Dante Scarnecchia had plenty of time to develop either Karras or some other player to at least hold down the fort in Andrews’ absence.

Develin’s injury may have been even more damaging.  His lead blocking for Michel and Burkhead might be seen by some as overlooked, but not by those who really know the game.  Linebacker Elandon Roberts turned out to be the replacement for Develin as Jakob Johnson also went down with an injury.  Roberts was much like Karras in that he did okay but was clearly no Develin.  Roberts was called upon to try and convert a third and one on Saturday night but was stuffed for no gain.  He did crack off some nice lead blocks, but the failed first and goal at the one exposed the absence of Develin at a time where a touchdown was badly needed but a field goal was all they got.

#1 – Gronkowski was never replaced, even slightly

 Rob Gronkowski retired last March, and kept true to his word.  Several experts predicted he would come back around November, but he never did.  He is still trying to become a comedian on the Fox pregame show rather than trying to surprise Patriot Nation with a late return to the Patriot lineup.  He is done with football.  Period.

The Patriots did not draft a tight end.  All the Patriots did was to bring in La Cosse and ancient former Patriot Ben Watson, who had to be talked into coming out of retirement.  Even Jacob Hollister was cast adrift, now catching tosses from Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks.

Brady missed Gronk big time.  Yes, the Patriots did win Super Bowl LI with that biblical comeback without Gronk in the lineup.  But over an entire season, the Patriots had no Martellus Bennett this year.  Without Gronkowski or Bennett to worry about, defenses double teamed Edelman with no qualms or trepidations.  They didn’t worry about Dorsett, Harry or Meyers.  This all combined to throw Brady off kilter and reduce the Patriot passing attack to something merely mortal.

Patriot Nation certainly knew what it had with Gronkowski.  Sometimes Bill Belichick can get away with personnel magic, but he couldn’t this time.  Both Brady and Gronkowski made it to the NFL Network’s Top 100 list at their respective positions (as did Belichick).  It could be that Belichick didn’t restock on tight end because perhaps he thought Gronk would come back in November.  Didn’t happen.

Add it all up, and it’s someone else’s turn this year.  Any talk about the end of the dynasty can wait for some other day.

ICYMI: Isaiah Wynn Shares Uplifting Tweet Following Injury News

Robert Alvarez
September 20, 2019 at 8:30 pm ET

The hits to the New England Patriots offensive line keep coming.

On Tuesday Left Tackle Isaiah Wynn was placed on injured reserve with a turf toe injury.

According to reports, Wynn will miss a minimum of eight weeks.

Wynn joins Marcus Cannon (shoulder) and David Andrews (blood clots) as linemen unavailable for the Patriots.

Both Wynn and Cannon are eligible to return this season while Andrews is out for the year.

On Wednesday, Wynn tweeted an uplifting message for fans.

On Thursday, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia told reporters Marshall Newhouse will start at left tackle in place of Wynn.

Should Cannon remain unavailable Sunday, the Patriots will start three backups in in Newhouse, Korey Cunnigham, and center Ted Karras.

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2019 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots return four of their five starters from an offensive line that was just outstanding in 2018 enroute to the team’s sixth Super Bowl title. The one very big piece both figuratively and literally is left tackle Trent Brown. Brown came to the Patriots last year with questions if he could be a viable left tackle in the NFL. He not only answered those but parlayed them into a massive 4-year contract worth $66 million dollars with the Raiders this spring.

The Patriots drafted Isaiah Wynn in the first round of the draft last year with the expectation that he would be the left tackle of the future. However, Wynn tore his Achilles in the preseason last summer and spent the entire year on IR. 

The strength of the offensive line is with their guard tandem of Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason which is one of the best in the NFL. Scrappy, tough and steady David Andrews is the center and Marcus Cannon is the right tackle. 

The Patriots are hoping that Wynn is ready for a full load this season and is ready to be a left tackle in the NFL. Backing him up is the underrated rookie T Yodny Cajuste from West Virginia. Cajuste is coming off quad surgery this offseason and missed all of the spring. But he is the swing tackle of the immediate future. 

The team signed veteran Jared Veldheer this spring but he decided to retire when he said his body wasn’t going to withstand the rigors of another season. 

With a 4th round draft pick, the Patriots selected Hjalte Froholdt, he should immediately challenge Ted Karras for the top interior backup role. The biggest question after Wynn’s status will be who will be the 4th tackle on the depth chart? Cole Croston, Cedrick Lang, Dan Skipper, Tyree St. Louis, and Calvin Anderson will be all vying for that position.

As long as Dante Scarnecchia is patrolling the Patriots sideline as the team’s offensive line coach, the Patriots can pretty much weather any storm that creeps up with the offensive line. So, with training camp just around the corner, let’s take a look at the position. 

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, Ted Karras, Yodny Cajuste, Hjalte Froholdt, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Brian Schwenke, Jake Eldrenkamp, Cedrick Lang, Ryker Matthews, Dan Skipper, Calvin Anderson, Tyree St. Louis, Tyler Gauthier

Locks – Wynn, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, Cannon, Cajuste

Near Locks –  Froholdt, Karras

Bubble – Croston, Ferentz, Schwenke

Long Shot – Eldrencamp, Lang, Matthews, Skipper, Anderson, St. Louis, Gauthier 

Discussion – We expect that Wynn will be ready to go for training camp. I watched him take part in individual drills during minicamp, he was held out of team drills, I believe as a precaution. He looked to me that he was moving without any issues and looked ready to go. Regardless, Wynn, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, Cannon, and Cajuste are all locks for the roster. 

Froholdt and Karras are both near locks. I personally believe that the team is looking at Froholdt as starter material for next season. Joe Thuney is in a contract year and could be in the market for a big payday. He played nearly all of the starter snaps during minicamp with Wynn and Cajuste absent. If he does leave, Froholdt may be getting groomed for the next guard under Scarnecchia. 

Karras has been a very good depth player and has the ability to fill in at guard and center. He’s tough, physical and versatile. Only an awful summer should stop him from earning a roster spot in 2019. 

Cole Croston would be the next in line for the 4th tackle position. He’s been kept around the past few years but is in no way considered a lock for the roster. He’s a very good practice squad candidate. The Patriots could still be in the market for another tackle.

Overall, the offensive line is in very good shape overall. Even though Wynn hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, the Patriots spent the 23rd overall pick on him for a reason. And although I may be overplaying things a bit, as long as Scarnecchia is coaching up the O-line, I have no doubt that they’ll figure things out. 

With training camp starting next week, the competition among the linemen should be extremely fun to watch. 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

VIDEO: Watch The Patriots Discuss What The Super Bowl LIII Ring Means To Them

Robert Alvarez
June 14, 2019 at 5:00 pm ET

The Patriots shared new footage from the Super Bowl LIII ring party on Friday over social media.

Check out the video below containing a few players and coaches discussing the importance of their Super Bowl LIII championship ring.

Video courtesy: Patriots.com

New England Patriots Training Camp Primer Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 16, 2017 at 12:00 pm ET

Continuity and Preparing for 2018 are Keys

The Patriots head into training camp in less than two weeks and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Offensive Line position.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. With a roster of 90 players and no cuts needed before the final 53-man roster cut down, there will be plenty of time for evaluation.

So we’re going to take a look at the Patriots Offensive Line. One of the keys to the 2016 success and part of the struggle down the stretch in 2015 had to do with continuity. The Patriots five starters played together nearly wire-to-wire last year and their performance showed. In 2015 injuries decimated the unit and the team couldn’t get any kind of cohesiveness going.

The good news is that five starters return as well as some of their top backups. But the team didn’t neglect their offensive line this offseason. With an eye to the future, they drafted two tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft, Tony Garcia, and Connor McDermott. Garcia in particular looks to have been drafted with 2018 and beyond in mind.

Although the team lost RT Sebastian Vollmer to retirement this spring, he missed the entire 2016 season with an injury and with the ascendance of Marcus Cannon, the team looks to be in good shape there.
So, with that in mind who is locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Tony Garcia
The starting five returns, seem to be healthy and are locked on the roster this summer. Solder returned from IR in 2015 to play very solidly last year. He’s in the last year of his contract and with that in mind, the team has drafted two possible replacements.

Moving up and using multiple picks to draft Garcia, he’s obviously someone who Dante Scarnecchia feels can be a left tackle of the future. With Solder in place for at least 2017, there is no pressure on Garcia to produce early. This will be a red-shirt type of year for him to learn the system and develop under the tutelage of Coach Scar.

Cannon came out of the doghouse to play very well in 2016. Guards Mason and Thuney are young and physical and should only improve. Andrews is an undersized but smart center and he’s not going anywhere.

Unless there is an injury somewhere, I see no changes happening along the starting lineup for the Patriots offensive line in 2017.

Near Roster Locks: Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Last season both Fleming and Karras were the top backups for the tackles and the interior line last year. They both have the inside track for the top backup positions again as well. Karras has the versatility to play either guard or back-up the center David Andrews. He’s not the most athletic guy but he’s physical and tough.

Fleming was the swing tackle last year and will be trying to hold off the rookies Garcia and McDermott from taking that job away from him. He’s versatile and can fill in at either left or right tackle, something that is easier said than done.

On the Bubble: LaAdrian Waddle, Conor McDermott, Cole Croston, Andrew Jelks, Max Rich, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris, Jason King, James Ferentz
The Patriots have plenty of depth at the backup positions and these players are likely to be fighting for reps in training camp and a most likely only one or two slots.

Waddle has been a backup tackle and a blocking tight end but with the depth, at that position, he’ll be pushed hard for a roster spot. McDermott is another intriguing prospect. He’s a guy that the Patriots used a pair of picks to get, albeit in the sixth round of the draft. Would he pass thru waivers if the team tries to stash him on the practice squad? That would seem to be his best bet to make the roster, at least this summer, unless the inevitable injuries occur.

With a lot of bodies in camp, this will be an intriguing group to watch. They’ll have the entire preseason to make a case for sticking, so staying healthy and on the field, will be of primary importance.

Our next primer will have the Patriots defensive line… stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Offensive Line Has Been Excellent Thus Far in 2016

Steve Balestrieri
September 27, 2016 at 12:00 pm ET

Solid Play, Return of Scarnecchia, Keys to Fast Start

The Patriots early season success can be attributed to a number of different factors. Not the least of which is the coaching of Bill Belichick, but the play of the offense line has to be considered one of the pleasant surprises thus far in 2016.

With the suspension of Tom Brady, the biggest question this summer was, “How will the Patriots fare in the first quarter of the season?” The answer thus far has been, just fine. The team is off to a 3-0 start and like many had envisioned prior to the start of the year, in no large part to the offense leaning on the running game.

An even bigger question to me than how would the backup quarterbacks play this season, was how would the offensive line handle being tasked with handling the running game. Especially when the opponent knew the Patriots were going to run. The offensive line a year ago was injury ravaged, of that there is no doubt about that. But their level of play overall was poor and Brady was nearly decapitated at times out there a year ago.

But the return of Dante Scarnecchia, the return to health of Nate Solder and the addition of Joe Thuney has been a panacea for the Patriots offensive line. Thru three games the Patriots lead the NFL in rushing and the play of the offensive has been markedly improved. The interior three of center David Andrews, and guards Shaq Mason and Thuney are perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise as they’re playing very strong and get better as the game goes along.

Joe Thuney wants to know “What are Pink Stripes?” Thuney (62) and David Andrews (60) have been solid this year.

LeGarrette Blount leads the NFL in rushing attempts (75), rushing yards (298), rushing yards per game (99.3) & is tied for the lead in rush touchdowns (4).

“There were a lot of plays — too many plays — last year where it didn’t matter who the back was, we just couldn’t get him started, couldn’t get him into any kind of space, couldn’t let the back build up any kind of momentum,” Bill Belichick said in a conference call with the media after the Miami game.

“I think all our backs have the ability to make yards. They’ve all been productive. We’ve seen it in the preseason, we’ve seen it through the years with some of these guys, depending on which guy you want to talk about, but we had to give him a chance,” he added. “You’ve got to give them a chance to have some type of opportunity to operate with some space or momentum, just something. No back can gain yardage when there’s just no place to run. I don’t care how good the guy is.”

Belichick’s comments are telling because they go against the popular notion that Blount dances too much when he gets the ball. What is he, or any other back supposed to do when there is nowhere to run. We’ve all seen, too often that the Patriots’ backs getting hit as soon as they receive the handoff, often deep in the backfield. That isn’t the running backs’ fault.

Blount is on pace for nearly 1600 yards rushing in 2016. While the offense will change once Brady returns from his league imposed vacation, one can’t say enough about the performance and workload that was placed on his shoulders. And he’s come through in the clutch for the team, especially in the fourth quarter as he’s been a closer for the team.

“We’ve always had a lot of confidence in LeGarrette,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He has had a lot of big games here for us and helped us win a lot of games, and he doesn’t just carry the ball, he did some things in terms of protection. He helped us on the edge with some of their good pass rushers. LG is always ready to go, practices hard… prepares hard for each week, and whatever we ask of him he embraces his role on our team.”

Two other additions that can’t be overlooked this season has been the play in the running game of Martellus Bennett and James Develin. Bennett has always been known as an excellent run blocking tight end, and it is an area that he has always prided himself in. He and Rob Gronkowski give the Patriots the option of nearly having two extra tackles in the running game. They can also go out on pass routes and threaten the seams. Once Gronkowski’s hamstring is healthy, he and Bennett will be a tough duo to stop.

Develin’s value to the running game can’t be overstated. He was really missed a year ago and he is a devastating blocker as a fullback as he leads the way for the backs to follow in the running game. A look at some of Blount’s big runs this season usually entail him following Develin thru the hole and into the second level of the defense.

The pass blocking of the offensive line has been better, not great but better this year. Granted they aren’t passing on every down, which actually hurt their level of play when teams could just pin their ears back and come after Brady.

They’ll face another tough test in the Buffalo Bills defense this week. The Bills sacked Carson Palmer five times and picked him off four more on Sunday. But dedicating themselves to being able to run the ball and sticking with it has been a feather in the cap of Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels thus far this season. McDaniels creative play-calling and game planning has kept opposing defenses on their toes. And he’s able to do that due to their ability to run the ball effectively in 2016.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Spotlight is Now On Cannon, Scarnecchia

Steve Balestrieri
August 23, 2016 at 7:27 am ET

Marcus Cannon has been a lightning rod for criticism the past few years from Patriots fans and members of the media. The 2016 season won’t be any different. Whether you’re talking about his contract or that awful AFC Championship Game in Denver, folks tend to expect the worst when it comes to the 6th year tackle from TCU. And one of the things the team should have addressed this spring was finding a right tackle of the future. But they didn’t.

With the news that Sebastian Vollmer is going to go on IR for a myriad of shoulder and hip issues, shouldn’t be surprising. Vollmer is a good, tough right tackle who has been banged up with a variety of back and knee woes for quite a while now. And at age 32, those don’t get better with big interior linemen. The writing was on the wall with Seabass and now with him being a free agent in 2017, he’s probably going to be moving on next year regardless if he’s able to come back this season or not.

Marcus-Cannon

We’re not going to go overboard and jump on Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio the way some do around the Boston area and with good reason. Show me another team that consistently fields a team that wins double-digit games every season in the NFL and every season takes a team deep into the playoffs.

It doesn’t exist outside of Foxboro and the two guys at the helm always seem to find a great mix of players that buy in, work hard, and invariably get the job done. It is always easy to sit up in the cheap seats and point out flaws in what went wrong after the fact.

However, this is one of those times that they should have perhaps taken a look at where they’ve addressed their offensive line in the past few years and perhaps moved their focus to the outside. In the past three years, the team added centers, Bryan Stork and David Andrews. At guard, a year ago, they drafted Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson. This season, the Patriots traded for guard Jonathan Cooper then drafted guards Joe Thuney and Ted Karras.

So we get that the offensive line was beaten up last year and that former coach Dave DeGuglielmo may not have been able to reach the players that Dante Scarnecchia had. That’s why Scar was brought back into the fold and was tasked with re-energizing this unit in 2016 so that we don’t witness a retake of the debacle that Tom Brady’s protection was down the stretch a year ago.

Scarnecchia and Belichick have always loved Cannon, seeing the potential that many of us don’t see on a day-to-day basis. Belichick in his Monday press conference went into detail praising Cannon’s work in the Chicago preseason game. To his credit, Cannon has been good this summer. Especially in the running game where he’s been able to get a consistent push up front and has pancaked quite a few would-be tacklers.

He’s moved better as well in pass protection, part of it Cannon credits to slimming down, eating right and working on his quickness. When he was drafted by the team in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, he tipped the scales at 358 pounds. He’s now listed at 335. Also a year ago, he was dealing with a toe issue which definitely would affect his mobility. But given the injury situation to the team a year ago, anyone that could walk was going to play.

Cannon’s biggest knock has been consistency. He’s played well in stretches but hasn’t been able to put anything together for any length of time. Scarnecchia, who has always been in his corner will go about trying to change that aspect of his game. With Vollmer out, for perhaps the entire season, the job is his now as it has been since Day 1 of spring OTAs and minicamp.

Scarnecchia can bring out the best on anyone, that’s why he’s been in the league for so long. He’ll bring out the good in Cannon. Because Cannon can be a good tackle in the NFL. But the Patriots, who have been on top of the heap for more than a decade don’t deal in “good” when protecting the best QB in the game.

They should have been looking for better than good this spring. Ultimately, we’ll learn how they fare once the games begin in earnest. Because the real tests for the offensive line and Cannon will be not in the preseason but once the team hits the desert of Arizona.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Training Camp Primer – Offensive Line

Steve Balestrieri
July 18, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

Return of Scarnecchia and Health Two Biggest Issues

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should be no shortage of competition at a number of spots. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up is the Offensive Line.

Bill Belichick likes to say that the spring’s OTAs and Minicamp is a learning exercise and that the real competition begins in training camp. While that is true to an extent, with 89 players on the current roster, a minimum of 36 of these will be cut. That doesn’t take into consideration the tweaking that goes on during the season after the initial 53-man roster is completed.

So next on deck are the big bodies on the Offensive Line. The team is banking heavily on the return of positional coach Dante Scarnecchia who was retired for two years. He’s a tough taskmaster who demands the most from his charges. The health of this group is a big question mark; injuries ravaged them and the protection of QB Tom Brady steadily got worse as the season progressed.

So who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?


Dante Scarnecchia returns to be the Pats OL coach after he retired two years ago. (USA TODAY Images)

Roster Locks: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Jonathan Cooper
Health is the key here, Solder was lost in Dallas Week 5 for the season with a torn bicep. Vollmer battled injuries throughout the campaign and has knee and back issues. But if both are healthy they’ll be your starting tackles. One would have thought that the tackle position would have been addressed in either free agency and the draft but it was not. We’ll see how that turns out later this year.

The Pats didn’t draft Thuney to sit on the pine, and with Mason, Jackson and Kline MIA this spring, he took the starting reps at left guard whenever Brady or Garoppolo was on the field. He even took a few at center. Mason finally appeared in the last spring workout and had 10 starts as a rookie. Coming from the running game of Georgia Tech, he’s an excellent drive blocker but as one would expect, had issues with his pass blocking.  Andrews, who started all the games early last season and played fairly well is undersized but tough. In a surprise move, he was getting the starting reps over Bryan Stork this spring…something to keep an eye on.

Cooper was a top draft pick for the Cardinals before injuries derailed his career there. With the aforementioned players out this spring, he got the starter’s reps at right guard. The Pats are hoping that Scarnecchia can rekindle his professional career.


Nate Solder returns after going on IR after Week 5 in 2015. (USA TODAY Images)

Near Roster Locks: Bryan Stork, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle
Stork, who played so well as a rookie at center, missed the first six weeks of the season on IR-Designated to Return and struggled as he had health issues of his own last year. Stork even played at right tackle against the Giants as Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon struggled. It will be interesting to watch the competition between Stork and Andrews this summer. With Thuney providing added insurance, the pivot position should be in good shape.

Cannon, is the ultimate head scratcher for this team, but Bill Belichick and Scarnecchia love this kid.  He was ineffective last season when pressed into starting duty and was just abused in the AFC Championship Game in Denver. As the saying goes, we’ll see how it plays out on the field.

Waddle has the opportunity to seize the swing tackle position. He too was hurt against the Cowboys and his shoulder injury sidelined him. But the Patriots gave him a two-year contract this offseason and he also has the capability to be an extra blocking tight end in short yardage.

On the Bubble: Tre’ Jackson, Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras
Jackson was a rookie draft pick (4th Rd, 111th overall), a year ago and had nine starts while appearing in 13 games. Prior to coming out in the 2015 NFL Draft, he had knee issues and he missed time with those during the season as well as missing both playoff games. If he’s healthy he’ll compete for the right guard spot, where he saw all of his action a year ago. But he missed all of the spring, so his status will bear watching once training camp begins.

Kline is a guy who the Patriots traditionally love, an undersized but tough player. He too missed all of the spring. With the additions of Thuney and Cooper along the interior of the line, he may find himself on the outside looking in.

Fleming flopped as a swing tackle a year ago, like Cannon was ineffective when pressed into service. But the last offseason, the Patriots fiddled with the idea of moving him to guard. He was training to do just that, cutting down on his weight a bit and improving his quickness. We saw the video of his workouts last spring and it seemed he was destined to move inside.

But the team drafted Mason and Jackson last spring and Fleming went back outside. The results were not good. Perhaps with a full offseason with Scarnecchia, Fleming can get his game back together. The swing tackle position will again go thru Cannon, Waddle and Fleming.

Karras is a tough kid that has a lot of upper body strength, completing 32 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day this spring. The 6th round draft pick has an NFL pedigree and is a good pass protector but isn’t very athletic and may find himself a practice squad candidate unless he can shine in limited opportunities.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Chris Barker, Keavon Milton
Both of these players have been let go in the past and face long odds of making the roster out of training camp.

Barker was originally claimed off of waivers from the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 season and appeared in four games. During the 2014 season, he split time between the practice squad and the active roster and appeared in two games. Last season he was signed to the active roster for the Week 10 game against the Giants before being released and signed back to the practice squad.

Milton was a UDFA in 2013 and was signed by the New Orleans Saints. He was among the final cuts of the Saints and was signed by the Browns and appeared in eight games with no starts that season. He then was released by the Browns at the end of training camp in 2014 and signed to Seattle’s practice squad. Released in September 2015 he was signed by the Patriots to their practice squad in November. The 6’4, 320-pound Milton was a blocking tight end at Louisiana-Monroe who made the transition to tackle

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Add Offensive Tackle Joe Thuney With 78th Overall Pick

Ian Logue
April 29, 2016 at 10:47 pm ET

After adding Cyrus Jones to their defense, the Patriots switched gears and gave themselves some help on the other side of the football when they made their 78th selection.

The Patriots selected North Carolina State tackle Joe Thuney with their 78th overall pick on Friday night, giving Tom Brady some additional help on the offensive line.

Thuney’s 6’5″, 304-pounds and scouting reports list him as being a solid blocker in the run game with a good football I.Q., which is obviously something that Bill Belichick looks for.  He’s also a versatile player, having played inside at guard during his junior season.  Where he’ll factor into the Patriots group will be interesting, but it could spell trouble for Marcus Cannon, who struggled last season.

Some of the concerns seem to surround his footwork and the fact he needs to add some strength.  But it’s a selection fans should feel good about given the return of Dante Scarnecchia, who should be able to hopefully coach him up and improve their offensive production.

Possible Patriots Draft Target, OT Le’Raven Clark

Steve Balestrieri
April 8, 2016 at 9:45 am ET

Patriots May Have to Move up Early in Day 2 For Clark

As the 2016 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots suffered a ton of injuries in 2015 and none of them were felt as badly as in the offensive line. There was a never-ending carousel of players in and out of the Patriots OL that eventually took its toll in the second half of the season and down the stretch. The Patriots used 37 different OL combinations last year and the QB, Tom Brady was the guy who paid the price as he was hit more than he has been in any year in his career.

Left tackle Nate Solder was lost for the year after Week 4 with a torn bicep. 2014’s starting center Bryan Stork missed the first seven weeks with concussion symptoms. Sebastian Vollmer, Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason all missed significant time with injuries.

It got ridiculous down the stretch as the Patriots have used five left tackles, five left guards, two centers, seven right guards and five right tackles. Two things happened, their strength and conditioning coach and the offensive line coach’s contracts were not renewed. Solder and Vollmer are back but the team can use an influx of youth at the tackle position, preferably a young man that can come in and vie for snaps if not immediately, by year two in 2017.

Le’Raven Clark from Texas Tech is a player that would not only fit into the Patriots system but would push for reps at right tackle immediately. Clark was a three-year starter for the Red Raiders after moving over from guard and made 51 consecutive starts. He was an All Big-12 Selection for the past three years.

Possessing the size needed to play tackle in the NFL at 6’5, 316-pounds; he also has the agility to slide outside to protect the quarterback in a pass-first scheme. Texas Tech liked to air it out and the Patriots are very much the same. But he also has the versatility and strength to move inside at guard if needed and be a mauler in the running game.

Clark is athletic with a 30-inch vertical jump with a 9.1-foot broad jump to go along with outstanding foot speed and athleticism to get to the edge in the running game.

leraven clark

Pros:

– Elite level footwork and quickness, can react to speed rushers on the edge

– Exceptional length enables him to disrupt and seal inside moves

– Very good agility and quickness in the running game

– His strength and thickness allow him to anchor against bull rushers

Cons

– Technique needs some refining with hand and footwork

– Must adapt to the NFL Pro-style offense

– Needs to keep his pad level down in pass protection

What his Role Will Be:
His role will be competing for the swing tackle offensive line role in training camp but there is no reason that he can’t and won’t compete for starting reps at right tackle in 2016.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?
Yes, with a little technique work and adaption to the pro-style offense, he should be the starting right tackle in 2017. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to Clark to move to LT in the foreseeable future.

How Many Downs Can He Play?
Three

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?
His roster slot will be in direct competition with reserve offensive linemen Cameron Fleming and Marcus Cannon.

What is his ST Value?
None

Conclusion:
Clark is the right tackle of the near future, possibly even the left if the Patriots can land him in the draft. He comes from a military family, something that always resonates well with Bill Belichick. He has elite, size, length and quickness as well as being a very smart player.

His transition to a pro-style offense may take a bit of time getting used to but once he adapts, he should become a dominant tackle in the NFL. Not a serviceable one, not a good one….a dominant one.

This kid needs only to put in the time and effort and if he’s selected by New England, he’ll have Dante Scarnecchia to push him to his fullest potential. Guys with his size, smarts and athleticism won’t last long in the NFL Draft.  He’s an outstanding protector in the passing game and one has to only remember how bad the Patriots struggled down the stretch and in the playoffs to see how seamless a fit he’d be with New England.

He has the versatility and experience at playing guard as well, something that always resonates well with the coaching staff.

He projects in the Patriots system to be a Starter. He should fit in very well into the NE offense. He’s slotted to go early in the 2nd round, if the Patriots find themselves in the position, they’d be well-served by sliding up in the round and taking Clark.

Clark’s highlight film against Oklahoma State can be found here, courtesy of CFB Film Room:

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcast on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.