W

hen it comes to the offensive line, the widely held assumption is no matter what disaster hits the group, the New England Patriots will be fine as long as Dante Scarnecchia is around.

No argument here. There’s certainly plenty of evidence to back up the notion. And, no doubt, whether it’s Ted Karras, newly acquired Russell Bodine or someone else filling in for center David Andrews, who is dealing with a significant health issue, they will handle the problems presented, and ultimately rise above.

As an offensive line coach, Scarnecchia is the ultimate miracle worker. There’s no one better. Add in Coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and quarterback Tom Brady, and the Patriots should be able to overcome the loss of Andrews, who was officially put on IR and is done for the season as he deals with the process of eliminating blood clots in his lungs.

Off the field, Andrews’ health and well-being is the primary concern, of course. His presence at practice last Tuesday and again at Thursday night’s final preseason game against the Giants was a good sign. It might also signal Andrews wanting to help the next man up, Karras, and stay involved with his mates as he gets better.

That should help what happens on the field going forward with the transition to Karras, or whatever the plan might be.

But let’s not minimize the role of a center, especially one who has such a great rapport with Brady. Andrews and Brady have had a terrific partnership. Without their chemistry, the offense doesn’t operate as smoothly as it has the past four seasons. The point being, Andrews’ loss is a significant one and shouldn’t be underestimated.

To get a better idea about what’s involved between the center and quarterback, we consulted Damien Woody, who played both guard and center for the Patriots.

“Losing a center is a pretty big blow,” said Woody, now an ESPN analyst. “Now, I’m not going to go all DEFCON 1 because there’s no team in the NFL that does a better job of adjusting with these type of things than the Patriots. They have the best in the biz in Dante Scarnecchia, so they’ll adjust, but the center is the quarterback of the offensive line, just directing calls and protections. (The position) is very vital, just setting the table for what’s going to transpire when the offensive play is snapped.”

Now, Brady has a role in that, as well, as far as calling the protections, or changing protections, based on what he sees at the line. But the quarterback and center work together in that regard.

Woody said the center also helps identify the “Mike” or middle inside linebacker, and the protections are set from there.

“The chemistry that David Andrews and Tom has had is pretty substantial,” said Woody. “Any time you take a beast like Andrews out of the offense and plug in a new guy, there’s going to be an adjustment. The offensive line is one of the most delicate positions in football because the whole objective is to get five guys to play as one. And one of the reasons why the Patriots have been so successful up front is they’ve had some continuity, particularly with their interior.”

Joe Thuney, Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon have been together as starters since the 2016 season. Basically the center is the primary communicator of the group. Andrews is incredibly smart and sees the game the way Brady does, navigating the line accordingly.

“Everyone has to be on the same page, particularly with the protections,” said Woody. “Put the new guy in, there’s some adjustments. And every play starts with the quarterback-center exchange. You can’t have any mishaps.”

It was usually smooth sailing with Andrews. Then there’s the blocking component. While he stood 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, Andrews did a good job keeping most teams from penetrating up the middle on Brady. That’s the toughest area for quarterbacks to dodge, or avoid being hit, with guys flying in their face. Karras is a little bigger at 6-foot-4, 305 pounds. Bodine, acquired from the Bills for a sixth-round pick, is 6-foot-3, 310 pounds.

In the past the Patriots have suffered a few significant losses, most notably in two Super Bowls to New York, in part because of the Giants’ ability to penetrate the middle of the Pats’ offensive line. Thuney, Andrews and Mason have clogged up the middle lanes pretty well the past four years.

“There’s a comfort level with Dave. But it’s football. It’s a game of adjustments,” said Woody. “I’ve seen the script time and time again when someone goes down, they plug somebody in, and it’s a well-oiled machine. That’s how New England is. They don’t make any excuses with injuries, or in this particular instance, a medical situation. They just plug the next guy in and go about their business. Plus they have the best guy in the business on the case. If anyone can figure it out, it’s Dante.”

The Patriots added more depth at tackle and guard during the week with the additions of Korey Cunningham and Jermaine Eleumunor, so they’re well on the road to figuring it out.

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