Block out worries of a weakened line
FOXBOROUGH — There will come a time, whether it’s Thursday night against the Saints or August 20th against the Eagles, when the Patriots offense struggles mightily and/or The Franchise takes a big shot.
And then a good many Patriots fans far and wide are going, to use a highly technical term, freak out.
“16-0? This team will be lucky to win a game behind that offensive line.”
“Who the heck is Jeremiah Warren? I can block better than him”
“That’s what we’re replacing Matt Light with?”
“Marcus Cannon — yeesh.”
“That doesn’t look like Dan Koppen.”
Yes, it’s going to be open season on the Patriots offensive line when the exhibition games begin.
It might not be immediate. Last year after the lockout, the Patriots didn’t even put Tom Brady on the field behind the legendary starting line of left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Thomas Austin, center Rich Ohrnberger, right guard Mark LeVoir, and right tackle Steve Maneri in the first exhibition game against the Jaguars.
Bill Belichick and line coach Dante Scarnecchia are no dummies. Only Solder finished the season on the active roster. The rest was scrub city.
But if training camp — especially Tuesday’s butt-whupping by the Saints — is any indication, the line is going to endure some growing pains. And it will be of great concern to the fans. Some of the more vigilant corners of Patriots Nation are already there.
But everybody needs to dial back on the hysteria.
Take a deep breath and say it with me: The Patriots are going to be fine on the offensive line.
When are they not?
First of all, the games don’t count for exactly a month. Four weeks is an eternity in terms of practice time, film work, and corrections.
We should even expect to see some improvement Thursday night, two days removed from what guard Donald Thomas called a “challenging” practice against the Saints.
“They threw a lot of things at us that we hadn’t seen before, and it was definitely a challenge,” Thomas said. “That’s a pretty good defensive team and they really tested us.”
After every practice, the Patriots go to the film room and go over what happened. Yes, there is screaming and yelling, but lessons are taught and then applied to the field.
“We made all the corrections,” Thomas said. “We’re very confident that we’ll be ready the next time around.”
And there is no one better at teaching than Scarnecchia. Yes, he is a tough son of a gun, but he is also, at his base, an instructor. He is a master at the details.
“He coaches them hard,” Brady said. “He coaches them hard in the spring, he coaches them hard in the summer, he coaches them hard in the fall. He’s a demanding coach and I think he gets the best out of every player that he’s got. That’s what it takes.”
The other reason Patriots fans should chill out about the offensive line is that only one player, Solder, is actually playing the position he projects to start at against the Titans in the season opener.
When the Patriots take the field Thursday night, they will line up, from left to right, Solder, Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Cannon. That is the “worst-case-scenario lineup” during the regular season, when they’ll have Solder, Logan Mankins, Connolly, Brian Waters, and Sebastian Vollmer.
The angst among fans is understandable. Before last year’s patchwork lineup against the Jaguars, the Patriots had begun each preseason since 2007 with basically a variation of the same lineup: Matt Light, Mankins, Koppen, Stephen Neal, and Vollmer/Nick Kaczur.
Those names certainly emit the comfort of a warm, cozy bed. The current lineup does not, but how can anybody get worked up when the regulars aren’t even on the field?
“I know it’s new guys and we’re seeing new looks,” Connolly said. “We’re trying our best to react and kind of be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
The only real concern is Vollmer. When he walked off the field after a rehab workout Wednesday, he wasn’t exactly the picture of health. His walk was uncomfortable. Still, there is a month to go. If Vollmer has to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, then Cannon has a month under Scarnecchia’s tutelage to get himself ready.
Based on Scarnecchia’s track record, the safe money is that Cannon will do the job if he is needed. Ditto for Belichick and Scarnecchia with the entire offensive line.
It’s never comforting for fans to see Brady’s protection be less than stellar. But there is no reason to be overly concerned at this point, no matter what happens early in the exhibition games.
The real games don’t start for a month. Reinforcements are coming. And those charged with the duty of protecting No. 12 know the stakes.
“Of course we realize the importance,” Thomas said. “We have to protect the quarterback or else we won’t go very far. We’ll get it done.”
Sooner or later.