|Dante Scarnecchia: ‘I have to do a better job’ helping offensive line cut down on sacks||11.06.13 at 9:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Anyone watching the Patriots this season has noticed a sharp uptick in the amount of pressure and the number of hits Tom Brady has taken in the pocket.
In nine games, Brady has been sacked 26 times. He was sacked 27 times in all of 2012 and 32 times in 2011. As a matter of fact, Brady is on pace to be sacked 46 times. The most times Brady has been sacked in one season is 41 in 2001. There isn’t anyone on the Patriots taking all of this harder than longtime offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia.
“I think that, yes we have given up more sacks at this point than we did all last season,” Scarnecchia said this week as the team heads into the bye. “Believe me, I understand that. So, what is it? I think that I probably have to do a better job coaching and getting them to do things better. I think our players are working at it very hard and you know sacks are a byproduct of a lot of different things. So, I’ll pretty much just leave it at that and hopefully, as we’ve said, we’re going to try and [be] better doing the things that we’re doing going forward.”
The sacks don’t include the 46 hits he’s taken and the increased pressure in the pocket. Brady has always been good with pocket presence, stepping up to avoid pressure or just moving side-to-side. But this year, he clearly doesn’t have the same confidence or feel.
When defenses attack, where is the pressure coming from? Well, according to the intense research from Pro Football Focus, mostly up the middle. Center Ryan Wendell is having a particularly rough year in pass protecting, rating out at a minus-8.3. Wendell has played all 681 snaps with Brady. The others in the red are the guards Dan Connolly (-6.3) and Logan Mankins (-2.3).
This week, when Mankins was asked about the season he’s having, Mankins allowed for the fact that his game against Miami wasn’t up to par but the rest of the season has been good.
“Mentally I’m better,” Mankins said. “Sometimes physically I’m not as fast as I once was, I don’t think. Just for example this year, I thought I’ve had a good year except for Miami. I played pretty bad that game, got beat a couple times, but every once in a while someone’s got you r number and they had mine that day. So it’s one of those deals.”
“I don’t know. I think that it’s just like anything where we’re at a point right now where the key thing for all of us is that we avoid using the word satisfied,” Scarnecchia said. “None of us should be satisfied with anything. The idea is to improve every day and try to get better every day and be a better football team tomorrow than we are today, so pretty much that’s it. We know where we are, we know what we do, we know how we do it and we’re just going to try and get better as we go forward.”
The Patriots will miss right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who came in at a plus-10.5 rating according to PFF, surpassed only by the 11.5 pass-blocking rating of Nate Solder. Vollmer has been replaced by Marcus Cannon, who has been having a successful season, albeit in 275 snaps.
“It’s the same as it was before we put him in that role. Marcus is our backup tackle and now he is our starting right tackle,” Scarnecchia said. “We feel like he is very capable of doing this job for any team. Right now he is doing it for us and he is doing a great job of it and we’re very pleased with the way he is playing right now.”
Does the 55 points indicate better times ahead for the offense and the line?
“I don’t know,” Scarnecchia conceded. “If you went on the last game you could say, ‘Yeah,’ that would probably be a pretty good thing. We just feel like our goal around here has always been from day one to be better today than we were at the beginning. That’s pretty much it. Whatever it was last week, hopefully it will be the same next week and then if it is next week, then maybe we say, ‘Oh, OK, maybe we do have some rhythm going.’”
|Consistency, continuity are watchwords for Patriots offensive line in 2013||05.30.13 at 7:15 am ET|
FOXBORO — This time last year, the Patriots offensive line was in a state of flux.
Veteran left tackle Matt Light was set to retire, while the future of right guard Brian Waters was up in the air (not to mention his locker). In addition, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer had medical issues and appeared to have all the mobility of a 70-year-old man, and left guard Logan Mankins was having knee issues of his own.
As a result, several faces shuffled in and out of Foxboro, including veteran center Dan Koppen and tackle Robert Gallery, as the Patriots tried to find a familiar formula.
But the group settled in nicely, finding a combo that included Nate Solder (left tackle), Mankins (left guard), Ryan Wendell (center), Dan Connolly (right guard) and Vollmer (right tackle). It was a group that started 11 games together in 2012 (including the postseason) and held up remarkably well as a unit. (According to Football Outsiders, Wendell lead the league in snaps taken with 1,379 and Solder was second with 1,339.)
Fast forward to this spring, and offensive line is the most stable of the Patriots’ positions. All five starters are back, and the group has built a rep as one of the most stable and sturdy protectors in the league, both against the run and in pass protection. According to Evan Silva of Rotoworld — who used his own data as well as info from Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus — New England goes into the 2013 season with the strongest offensive line in football, adding that Marcus Cannon could step in and take over for Connolly at right guard sooner rather than later.
“The 49ers are better in run-blocking, but New England gets a big enough edge in the pass-blocking phase to put position coach Dante Scarnecchia‘s unit over the top,” Silva writes. “Despite ranking fourth in the league in pass attempts last season, the Patriots allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in football. Pass pro is pretty important in an increasingly pass-first NFL.
“The Pats didn’t lose any key line members and could receive a youthful, physical injection if 2011 fifth-round steal Cannon unseats incumbent right guard Connolly. Cannon is a nimble 6-foot-5 and 360 pounds. Solder and Vollmer were both top-17 offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ 2012 ratings, while Wendell was a top-five center. Mankins, 31, is gunning for his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl berth.”
That level of continuity that was built over 2012 certainly plays a role when it comes to game-planning for 2013, according to Mankins.
“Oh yeah — [it's a] big advantage. As long as we’re all out there practicing together, that’s an advantage. We’ve got some guys out right now and that’s giving some younger guys some quality reps that they need,” he said Wednesday after the latest OTA session on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.
“It’s great. I think [continuity is] a big deal for us,” he added. “We enjoy the guys that we have. I think they’re all hard-working guys that play hard, play the way we want to play. As long as we’re all practicing together, I think we do a lot better together.”
It’s a point echoed by running back Stevan Ridley, who was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the offensive line last season as he rushed his way to 1,263 yards, the fourth-best output in franchise history.
“It’s huge,” he said of the fact that the same five offensive linemen are set to return in 2013. “For one, for our quarterback. Tom’s got to be comfortable back there and we’ve got a very veteran offensive line. And they work extremely hard. So for me as a running back back there to have an offensive line that I know has been in the trenches. Blocked for one of the best quarterbacks. Knows what they have to do. What they’re assignments [are]. Sound. That’s a comfort as a runner that you have some veterans up front that know what they’re going to do.”
The 31-year-old Mankins — the occasionally irascible lineman who has become the de facto leader of the group — delivered a tongue-in-cheek response when asked about the recent round of OTAs.
“We all live to play football in May,” he said with a smirk. “Naw, it’s good for us. It knocks the rust off before training camp. We get to get the new guys a head start before training camp so they’re not showing up not knowing what’s going on. It’s always good to be out here, running and conditioning.”
|Josh McDaniels: The way Dante Scarnecchia works ‘demands respect’||11.27.12 at 5:10 pm ET|
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 and Brian Waters at the beginning of the season. They have adapted to the loss of Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly for stretches at a time.
And last Thursday, they had to overcome the absence of Sebastian Vollmer to a late scratch. Ryan Wendell and Nate Solder 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 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 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.” Read the rest of this entry »
|New England represents a new beginning for Robert Gallery||07.28.12 at 5:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For Robert Gallery, opportunity could be knocking.
The veteran offensive lineman, who was signed as a free agent this offseason by the Patriots, is coming into an uncertain situation in New England. No one is saying much about the future of last year’s starting right guard Brian Waters, while starting left guard Logan Mankins is coming off offseason knee surgery. Meanwhile, starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has sat out all spring and the first three days of summer because of a back problem.
That could create a chance for the 32-year-old Gallery to suddenly become a key part of New England’s offensive line. The former Raider and Seahawk, who has played both guard and tackle over the course of his eight-year career in the NFL, has seen a lot of time at right guard over the first three days of camp, working with a reasonable facsimile of the Patriots’ starting offense.
At this point in the summer, Gallery has to be aware of the situation, but said after practice on Saturday that he’s not letting that uncertainty affect the way he goes about his business on the field.
“It doesn’t really affect me at all. I come to work every day and work on what I have to do to get better as a player, and all that stuff will play itself out,” said Gallery, who was given Matt Light’s old No. 72. “I’m just here to work on my skill, get better every day and do what I can do to help the team. That will all be decided once camp is over.”
Gallery, who was taken second overall (behind Eli Manning) in the 2004 draft, appeared to struggle at times in his professional career. (To be fair, seven seasons in Oakland can wear on a guy.) But after spending the 2011 in Seattle, he welcomed the chance for a fresh start in New England.
And while his Patriots’ career is still in its’ early stages, he’s already flashed some flexibility. He’s played some guard and tackle, filling in where needed, and has already developed a positive working relationship with veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
“[He’s] great. He’s a technician,” Gallery said of Scarnecchia. “He demands a lot, like a good coach should. It’s been enjoyable working with him so far. He pushes us to be the best, like he should do.
“It’s great,” he added. “I’m excited to be here and be here with this team, and just ready to get things rolling.”
|Reports: Patriots sign South Florida OL Jeremiah Warren as a UDFA||04.28.12 at 8:18 pm ET|
The Patriots have started signing undrafted free agents, with multiple outlets reporting Saturday that they have reached an agreement with South Florida offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren. A 6-foot-3, 336-pound offensive lineman, he’s displayed plenty of positional versatility, having played left guard and left tackle. He had a pre-draft workout with New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
|Draft day memories: It was a ‘comfortable and relaxing’ start for Nate Solder||04.23.12 at 4:39 pm ET|
With the NFL draft set for this week, we’re taking a look back at some draft day memories with some of the current Patriots. First up, tackle Nate Solder, who was New England’s first pick in the 2011 draft.
While many of last year’s top picks in the NFL draft spent the first night of the event at Radio City Music Hall, Nate Solder was roughly 2,000 miles away at a far less glamorous locale — Peri & Ed’s Mountain Hideaway in Leadville, Colo.
His parents’ bed and breakfast (described on Trip Advisor as “comfortable and relaxing”) was the first place where he found out he was a member of the New England Patriots.
“It’s an exciting time. I was at home, I remember, and I had all my family there,” he said, reflecting on that night a year ago where he started his NFL journey. “Like I said, I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I just hoped — I kept my mind off what the TV was saying, so I just kind of hoped that I ended up in a good program, and I was just lucky enough to end up [with the Patriots].”
Solder didn’t get a sense that the Patriots were interested until a few days before the draft when he was put through his paces by New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia in a private workout.
“I wasn’t surprised because people say be prepared for anything,” Solder said. “I was kind of prepared for odd things like that. I remember that meeting and I thought he was an exceptional coach.”
The 17th overall selection, the Colorado product appeared in all 19 of the Patriots’ games (16 regular season, three postseason), starting 15, including 13 at right tackle and two as part of a three tight-end alignment. He led all Patriots’ rookies in total snaps played, and became an integral part of the New England offensive line in his first season in the league.
But he certainly won’t forget the first steps of what is a yearlong journey.
“I remember coming into camp, I didn’t know what direction the field was. I didn’t know where the locker room was. I didn’t know anything,” Solder said. “Just to have those things under my belt [now] will be nice.”
|Free Agent Snapshot: Carl Nicks||02.15.12 at 2:10 pm ET|
We continue our on 15 possible fits for the Patriots in free agency this offseason. With the understanding that the NFL’s franchise tag window is from February 20 to March 5 (which means some of these players we list could ultimately be retained by their team) here are some players worth keeping an eye on that might be a fit in New England when free agency begins March 13:
Position: Offensive guard
Weight: 343 pounds
Two points: One, we’ve been down this road with Nicks before. And two, this whole entry should be led with the following disclaimer: If Brian Waters decides to retire, then Nicks would be the next best option for the Patriots. Waters said after the Super Bowl that he’d taken two to three weeks to decide on his future, and if he does choose to return, then the whole idea of Nicks to New England is moot. But if Waters does choose to hang ‘em up, the Patriots should focus their attention on landing Nicks, a Nebraska product who was a fifth-round pick of the Saints in 2008.
This wouldn’t be the sort of marquee, skill position signing along the lines of a Vincent Jackson (or even Reggie Wayne) that would get people talking, but the addition of Nicks — who is expected to leave the Saints — would certainly give a big boost to New England’s offensive line. A two-time All-Pro, he’s finished first (2009), first (2010) and second (2011) in Pro Football Focus rankings the past three years, and PFF has him as the fourth-best free agent on the market.
There are some hard decisions to make regarding the interior of the New England offensive line this offseason, as center Dan Koppen and center/guard Dan Connolly are both free agents. The Patriots have Ryan Wendell as a quality backup at both positions, as well as center Nick McDonald, but if Waters does decide to retire (or they don’t re-sign Koppen and/or Connolly) and they don’t believe Wendell is a long-term answer as a starting guard, they would be wise to at least kick the tires on Nicks.
Why it might not work: We already covered the Waters angle. In addition, Nicks could balk at the idea of moving from left to right guard. I’ll also be curious to see how the market for free-agent guards shakes out — Nicks is presumed to be the best of the bunch, but it’s a group that also includes Baltimore’s Ben Grubbs and Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis. And historically, other than Waters, the Patriots have been reticent to bring in veteran offensive linemen, choosing instead to cultivate their own younger talent under the guidance of veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
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