Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Associated Press
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - One man's injury is another man's opportunity.
Dante Scarnecchia, starting his 14th season as the offensive line coach for the New England Patriots, supervises a blocking drill as center Dan Koppen, center, works with tackle Nate Solder.
The Associated Press
Under the best of circumstances, the New England Patriots' offensive line was going to be reshuffled after starting left tackle Matt Light announced his retirement.
Then came a knee injury to guard Logan Mankins that has kept him off the field early in training camp and Sebastian Vollmer's ongoing back woes that have sidelined the fourth-year tackle.
So the early focus has been on second-year tackle Nate Solder, who is expected to take over Light's duties in keeping quarterback Tom Brady's jersey clean. Second-year pro Marcus Cannon and others have gotten work at right tackle.
Veteran Brian Waters, a standout guard last season, has yet to report, and center Dan Koppen is returning from an injury that kept him out almost all of last season.
"It's been, what, a year? It's still coming back to me in some ways," said Koppen.
It adds up to chaos, but when it comes to putting together an effective offensive line, Coach Bill Belichick's motto is: In Scarnecchia, we trust.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, 64, is in his 29th season with the Pats and 43rd as a coach, his 14th with New England's offensive line.
"He's awesome," said Belichick. "Dante's a great coach on every level. He's real good with 'Xs' and 'Os.' He does a great job with the veteran players. He's brought along and developed so many of our young players, rookie players, draft choices, free agents; taken guys off the practice squad and built them into starters or contributors."
"(Scarnecchia) raises his voice from time to time but he hasn't had to give us that much yet," said offensive lineman Donald Thomas. "He gets on us, though, but he wants it right, so you can't get mad at him."
Thomas said Scarnecchia has great resolve and never gets rattled, and that transfers to the players.
"When somebody goes down and there's a new lineup, he has complete faith in us."
Last season, Koppen was lost in the first game of the season and the team ended up using four players at the position. While the loss of a veteran starter hurt, it had its silver lining.
"By the end of the season, we felt like we had four guys that could play the position rather than we knew for sure we had one," said Belichick.
Even with the losses both permanent and temporary, there is experienced depth and flexibility that makes Scarnecchia's job easier. Cannon underwent several months of treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma before being activated in November and playing in seven games. He was rewarded with the NFL's Ed Block Courage Award for his inspirational return to action and has been seeing plenty of reps at right tackle with Vollmer out.
"He's improved so many things from where he was at the end of the season because he just didn't have that base to build on last year," said Belichick. "I would say he's way ahead of where he was last year."
Ryan Wendell, Nick McDonald and Dan Connolly were three of the fill-ins at center and have seen extensive action all along the line. Thomas got a shot late last season, and free-agent pickup Robert Gallery can play both tackle and guard.
NOTES: The Patriots announced the signing of rookie free-agent lineman Derek Dennis of Temple, who was released by Miami a week ago. New England also claimed rookie lineman Dustin Waldron off waivers from the Dolphins. … Lineman Jamey Richard was placed on injured-reserve. … There was a spirited scuffle between Solder and linebacker Brandon Spikes at Wednesday night’s practice. “It’s a very competitive camp and it’s part of football,” said Belichick, who wouldn’t comment on the fierceness of the battle but did say, “I’ve seen worse.” Belichick said he would be “the last one” to try and break up a fight. “They’d probably come after me,” he cracked. Wide receiver Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch left practice early. … The NFL is expected to assign replacement officials to call penalties during shared practices with New Orleans Tuesday and Wednesday.