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Josh McDaniels: The way Dante Scarnecchia works ‘demands respect’

FOXBORO — All year, there have been concerns about the stability of the Patriots offensive line.

But somehow, some way, the Patriots have managed to cope with losses of Matt Light [1] and Brian Waters [2] at the beginning of the season. They have adapted to the loss of Logan Mankins [3] and Dan Connolly [4] for stretches at a time.

And last Thursday, they had to overcome the absence of Sebastian Vollmer [5] to a late scratch. Ryan Wendell and Nate Solder [6] have had their moments – mostly good.

But, without question, the one constant throughout it all has been their offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. At the beginning of the season, with the questions on the offensive line, there were many who wondered if Tom Brady [7] would stay upright enough to be as productive as in years past. Well, Brady has thrown 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions, and the team has posted 407 points through 11 games, an average of exactly 37 points per game, better than even the 2007 team when they scored 589 points in a season.

So, when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels [8] spoke on a conference call Tuesday, he was quick to give Scarnecchia credit for keeping it all together and developing back-up talent like Wendell, Nick McDonald, Marcus Cannon and Donald Thomas. Look at it as a way of saying, ‘Thanks, Dante.”

“I have an incredible respect and appreciation for [Scarnecchia],” McDaniels said. “I think when you talk about those players and the roles that they play on our team and the contributions that they’€™ve made, I don’€™t think you can talk about them without mentioning Dante because he does an incredible job of preparing all of them as if they’re all going to start and play for four quarters. He makes sure that they have reps. He makes sure that they understand all the communication and I have an incredible appreciation and respect for him as their coach. With the guys you mentioned, the inside guys with Ryan being a starter and playing, I would say, really solidly inside for us all year, he’s a smart guy, he’s been in our program.

“I think it’€™s a tribute to him and what he’s gone through in terms of working his way from the practice squad to learning multiple positions and being on the ready for a number of years now and trying to improve himself all the while. And then this year, he really gets his opportunity and I think he’s really making the most of it. He’€™s a smart guy. He can play more than one position in there. Certainly he’s just playing center for us this year, but I think the value that he brings in there, the intelligence that he has and his ability to work hand in hand with Tom [Tom Brady] and our system and get the communication to the other linemen is invaluable. Again, I think his overall execution and performance has been really good for us.”

Thomas and McDonald were the ones at the ready when Mankins and Connolly went down. Part of the reason they were ready – according to McDaniels – was the preparation under the tutelage of Scarnecchia.

“With Donald and Nick, I think one of the things that doesn’€™t necessarily get mentioned probably enough is their versatility, because a lot of those inside players, when you keep them on your roster and you continue to develop them if they’re not starters, one of the big things that they need to be able to do for you is play more than one spot, because it’€™s hard to take a lineman to the game that can’€™t backup more than one position in there,” McDaniels said. “They’€™ve all played center at certain times, whether it’€™s practice; preseason games they all played center in there, both guard spots on either side where the communication gets flipped around. And I think there’€™s a tremendous amount of value in that, and then to go in there in big games and really allow us to continue to play the way we try to play, regardless of who’€™s in there, I think that just says a lot for how much confidence we have in them and then their ability to go in there and execute and compete at a high level and not really force us to do less than what we want to do. They’re all physical, smart football players that understand our system. They’€™ve been around enough. They certainly get taught extremely well by Dante and I think we as a staff have great confidence that if any of those guys are in the game, that they’re going to be able to hold up and do their job. And then Marcus, lastly, again here’€™s a young guy that’€™s had an opportunity to learn and practice a ton.”

Aside from the Xs and Os, what is it that makes Dante Scarnecchia such a great coach?

“I think it begins with his work ethic. He’s usually the first guy in the building,” McDaniels said. “I think the way he works, the way he approaches his job, it kind of demands respect because all he does and all he cares about when he’€™s here is making sure his guys are prepared to do what we’€™re asking them to do in the game plan, and he really goes to every length to make sure that happens. I think the way they see him work, they immediately appreciate what they have in him as a teacher. I think he demands that they do it a certain way. He finds a way to communicate with different players in different ways because they’€™re not all the same, they don’€™t all learn the same way, but he finds a way.

“And he’s obviously had an incredible amount of experience dealing with different players over the course of his long career. He knows the different buttons to push, he pushes his guys extremely hard, but at the same time, I think they have an incredible admiration and respect for him and they know that he’s putting them in positions to be successful. I think that goes hand in hand with his understanding of Xs and Os, the techniques that he knows how to teach so well up front and they way that he goes about improving each one of their games individually and all together. That’€™s why you see a collective group of players that can go out there and play together as a unit so well. It’€™s no secret that I have a great appreciation and admiration for him as a coach and a teacher and a friend. I think he does a great job and I think they all respect the heck out of him.”

Here is the rest of Tuesday’s Q and A with McDaniels:

Q: Can you talk a little about Shane Vereen [9] and what he’s brought to the offense and how he’s progressed this season?

JM: Shane is a young guy that works hard. He’€™s had, in certain situations in certain games, limited opportunities, but I think he’s really come to work and practiced well every day. He’€™s backed up a number of roles for us in certain games and then played in different packages throughout the course of the season. He’s a guy that can do things in the running game. He certainly can do things in the passing game: has good hands, very good speed, and he’s smart. That really gives him an opportunity to get in there against some of the more difficult defensive teams that force us to handle the pressures and the blitz pickup. He can go in there and really gives us confidence that he can handle that part of the game as well. He’€™s a guy that didn’€™t get a lot of opportunity last year because of his injury, and has really made the most of his chances this year. I think he just continues to try to work hard and get better and create more of a role for himself as we go forward.

Q: Has there been anything about Shane that has surprised you since you’€™ve been with the team?

JM: No, I wouldn’€™t say that. I did some work on Shane when he came out of Cal and I liked him. I was in St. Louis when he came out and we liked him then and felt like he had a really good skill set to do a lot of different things in an offense and obviously was a bright guy. All those things have really showed up and I think that Shane is continuing to work hard and he’s really made the most of his opportunities, especially lately when we’€™ve had a chance to get him the ball.

Q: The team has produced 219 points in the last five games and 108 in the last two. Not all are offensive, but a lot are. What’€™s clicked or what have you seen from the offense that you’€™ve liked during that time frame?

JM: I think when you score points, I always have felt like it’€™s a function of the team playing well. It’€™s certainly not just an offensive statistic. I know that our job is to go out there and score as many as we can when we have the ball, but as you mentioned, there’€™s been a number of scores that have had nothing to do with offensive football. I think that’€™s, again, a tribute to the way that the team performs in those games. Offensively, I think we always have that mindset that we want to go out and score seven points. I think the less mistakes you make, the better chance you have to execute a number of plays in a row that give you an opportunity to continue to move the ball and stay on the field. I think our third down ‘€“ just our overall third down production and ability to convert in short yardage and stay on the field offensively ‘€“ I think we’€™ve gotten better over the course of the season. I don’€™t think there’€™s one specific reason for that. I think Coach [Belichick] has really allowed us to work really hard at that in practice and just try to focus on those situations that really dictate whether or not you can stay on the field. We all know that third down is really as important a down as there is offensively and there’€™re a lot of things you have to handle on third down. We’€™ve had a lot of different contributions from a lot of different people, but overall the ability to perform and execute under pressure on that down has given us a chance to continue to move the ball to try to go down there and score more points as the season has gone on. So, you know, each game is different, each week is different, each opponent is different and each challenge is completely unique from the past challenges. So, it’€™s going to be a different challenge this week against Miami, a whole different set of defenses and things we’€™ve got to deal with and players that we have to handle that they have on their team. Again, hopefully our execution and our ability to handle the third down situations that come up in the game will give us an opportunity to move the ball and stay on the field and ultimately get down there and try to score points.