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For Dante Scarnecchia, coaching now year-to-year proposition, but he’s committed to return in 2017 02.03.17 at 3:36 pm ET
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Dante Scarnecchia said he's set to return in 2017. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Dante Scarnecchia said he’s set to return in 2017. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

HOUSTON — Dante Scarnecchia said that he’s committed to coming back for 2017. Beyond that? At this point in his life, coaching is a year-to-year proposition.

“I think it is, yeah,” the Godfather of the Patriots offensive line said earlier this week. “I’m going to be 69 in two weeks. But I’m happy. I’m in a good place.”

In the spring, Scarnecchia talked openly of what it would take for him to be successful when it came to returning to the grind. In hindsight, he said it’s been pretty much what he expected.

“This year has been a hard year,” he said. “But it’s like all years you experience in this league; a lot of hours and a lot of time. But here we are at the end of it. I feel good about going into next year and helping again. Trying to do everything we can to try and improve. One more year.”

“I never go into a season saying ‘This is what we want to achieve.’ It’s really, and this is really cliche, it’s day-to-day. Week-to-week. Try to be as good as you can possibly be. Try to improve as much as you can possibly improve. And I think we’ve done all those things. Those are the sorts of things that make me want to come back next year.”

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Why exactly do the Patriots love Dante Scarnecchia so much? Just listen to Josh McDaniels 01.03.17 at 10:15 am ET
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Sep 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots center David Andrews (60) celebrates with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dante Scarnecchia has been a fatherly influence for the likes of David Andrews this season. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

The single-biggest improvement for the Patriots from 2015 to 2016 has been the performance and consistency of the offensive line.

There’s no question that some of that has to do with rookie Joe Thuney and second-year linemen David Andrews and Shaq Mason coming into their own. There’s also been significant improvement in the work of Marcus Cannon on the right tackle spot.

But ask anyone close to the offense and they point to the voice that returned to the building this season as perhaps the biggest motivation for their consistency.

Dante Scarnecchia came out of his two-year sabbatical/hiatus/retirement to replace Dave DeGuglielmo and re-invigorate the offensive line. The results have been impressive. Tom Brady started 12 games and threw 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett combined to start the other four and didn’t throw a single pick.

Brady was sacked just 15 times in those 12 starts and the team surrendered just 24 in 16 games. The Patriots were sacked just 4.36 percent of the time they attempted to pass, the sixth-best protection rate in the NFL. That alone gave offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels the confidence to call pass plays in obvious passing situations.

“Dante is a tremendous, tremendous asset, a tremendous, tremendous coach,” McDaniels said. “He’s a great teacher. He builds tremendous continuity among the guys that play for him. He really does a great job of getting them to understand how to communicate with each other and work with one another because ultimately, five guys need to do a good job of working with one another to do their jobs on the offensive line, and he’s done a great job of that.

“He has them prepared and ready to practice each day so that they can make progress and improve, and then has them ultimately prepared and ready to play on game day which is again, that’s our one day a week that we have an opportunity to go out there and really perform. He’s been a tremendous mentor of mine and he’s certainly made a huge difference and impact on our group up front and on our offense and on our team. I don’t think his value can be understated. He’s tremendous and we love having him here and it’s our privilege to have a chance to work with him.”

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OL coach Dante Scarnecchia explains reason for Marcus Cannon’s improved play this season 11.01.16 at 10:29 am ET
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Marcus Cannon has made great strides this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Cannon has made great strides this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — One of the most improved players on the Patriots roster this season has been offensive lineman Marcus Cannon.

The right tackle is enjoying his best season as a professional, being one of the best linemen on the team over the first eight games in his sixth season in the league.

Speaking Tuesday as coaches typically do during the bye week, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia detailed a change in his technique as being one of the biggest reasons for his improvement.

“He hasn’t used his length — his arms are really long — but he doesn’t use them like a guy that has long arms needs to use them,” Scarnecchia said. “The more you keep the defenders out and away from you instead of letting them get into your body and grab things, the better off you’re going to be at tackle. He has seemed to grasp that very well and embrace it. If he continues to play that way, he’ll be fine and he has been fine.”

Added Scarnecchia: “I think the improvement that we’ve noticed really has been this year. We asked him to play a different way and to do things differently. He’s such a good guy and really tries to do them that way. He’s made great strides, I honestly think he has improved over the course of this season and that is all you can ask for of any player. He’s a big man that moves very well. He uses his hands much better in pass protection and he can be a real force in the run game. I’m pleased with where he is and neither one of us is satisfied so we just keep moving forward.”

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Bill Belichick praises offensive line, calls Dante Scarnecchia ‘as fine a coach as anybody I’ve coached with’ 09.12.16 at 7:09 pm ET
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Dante Scarnecchia speaks Monday at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/

Dante Scarnecchia was brought back to Foxboro to stabilize the offensive line. (Mike Petraglia/

One of the significant factors that allowed the Patriots to pull off the upset over the Cardinals in the desert Sunday night was the unheralded play of the offensive line.

The best officials and referees are the ones that aren’t noticed by the fans. The same can be said of offensive linemen. And save for the occasional edge rush by a Cardinals team re-tooled to get after the quarterback, the Patriots were able to let Jimmy Garoppolo do his thing, allowing only two sacks of Garoppolo on the night, and just two other quarterback hits.

All of this with their starting tackles of Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer out of the picture. Vollmer is on IR and Solder, the starting left tackle, didn’t travel because of a sore hamstring.

The Patriots and Bill Belichick turned back to Dante Scarnecchia this past offseason in hopes of re-establishing order on the line. His challenge in his very first game back was to get the best out of Cameron Fleming on the left side and Marcus Cannon on the right.

“Of course, I think the world of Dante,” beamed Belichick, who didn’t hesitate to put Scarnecchia up in very lofty company. “I think he is as fine of a coach as anybody that I’ve coached with and I’ve had the opportunity to coach with a lot of them, certainly. Him and Coach [Nick] Saban are up there pretty high along with a lot of other great coaches, and Scott O’Brien in the kicking game. But yeah, it’s great to have him back and he does a tremendous job with the individual techniques of the players and also in terms of making them aware of their assignments and adjustments and scheme things that come up, too.

“Those two components are just huge for the offensive line, not only individually but so that all five guys understand the same thing at the same time because that’s really what makes an offensive line a good line, is that they can all work together and do it cohesively.

On the interior of the line, the contrast couldn’t be more stark. The 68-year-old coach is working with two rookies in Joe Thuney and Ted Karras, both of whom started on either side of second-year center David Andrews. The other available interior linemen, Shaq Mason, also played significant snaps Sunday and is also in just his second NFL season.

“He does a great job of all of those things. But, you know, we really played three guards last night. Joe on the left side and then Shaq and Ted on the right side. They [Arizona] have a good defensive line. They gave us some problems. We blocked them a lot but not always. They were able to have a couple of disruptive plays in there and they’re a very talented group so, you know, we hung in there, we competed with them and we had some good ones and some not so good ones, but we hung in there and kept slugging it out.”

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What we’ll be watching for in Patriots’ preseason opener vs. Saints 08.11.16 at 10:04 am ET
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Will it be The Jimmy Garoppolo Show Thursday night against the Saints? (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Will it be the Jimmy Garoppolo show Thursday night against the Saints? (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here’s what we’ll be keeping an extra close eye on when the Patriots meet the Saints in the preseason opener for both teams Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

Who plays: Reportedly, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman will not play. For the record, over the last 10 years Brady has sat for the first preseason game three times: 2014, 2011 and 2008. (For those of you projecting six months down the road, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl on two of those occasions.) As for Gronkowski and Edelman, both have consecutive-game preseason absences on the line. The big tight end hasn’t played in a preseason game since 2012, missing 13 straight. And Edelman has missed five consecutive preseason games dating back to last year. Not that it’s a huge surprise, but count on Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Sebastian Vollmer not to play as well, as they’ve been out of action to this point all summer.

Quarterback reps: As we have said all summer, not all reps are created equal. (That’s one of the reasons we’re not obsessively cataloguing who gets what opportunities every day when it comes to 7-on-7s.) Keeping in mind Bill Belichick’s directive at the start of camp that the goal was to make Jimmy Garoppolo as ready as possible for the regular season, it’s a sign that in this case, the value of preseason game reps trumps those in practice. For those of you wondering how much work is too much for Garoppolo, here’s a look at his preseason stat line from 2015.

vs. Green Bay — 56 snaps, 20-for-30, 159 yards, 1 INT
vs. New Orleans — 70 snaps, 28-for-33, 269 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
vs. Carolina — 33 snaps, 13-for-17, 126 yards, 1 TD
vs. NYG — DNP

One more note on Garoppolo: While the circumstances were different, it’s worth noting that the last time he started in the preseason, it was 2014 finale against the Giants. In that one, he went wire to wire, playing 69 snaps and finishing 22-for-42 for 284 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

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History Lesson: Bill Belichick’s coaching longevity rooted in consistency, adaptability 07.27.16 at 5:57 pm ET
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Bill Belichick begins his 42nd season in the NFL this month. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick begins his 42nd season in the NFL this month. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — To give you some perspective as to just how long Bill Belichick has been in the NFL, when the Patriots meet the Dolphins this year, Belichick will square off against a head coach in 38-year-old Adam Gase who wasn’t even born when Belichick took his first job as an assistant in the league.

This week marks the start of Belichick’s 42nd consecutive year in the National Football League, the last 17 of which have come as head coach of the Patriots. The longest-tenured head coach in the league with his current team (the closest is Cincy’s Marvin Lewis, who took over the Bengals in 2003), it’s a remarkable run for any coach in the NFL.

When it comes to stacking his resume against some of the greats of the game, entering the 2016 season, he’s at 223 career wins as a head coach, tops among all active coaches and fourth on the all-time list. This season, he’ll move past Curly Lambeau (at 226, fourth) on the all-time wins list, and will almost certainly pass Tom Landry (third with 250 career victories) before he’s done. While you never say never, it would probably take at least another decade for him to come anywhere near the likes of Don Shula (first, 328 career wins) or George Halas (second with 318 wins).

The 64-year-old Belichick, who first went to training camp as an special assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975 at the age of 23, has been working in the league ever since. He said that when it comes to coaching, there’s some carryover in preparation and approach. But in his experience, his approach over the previous 41 seasons has been to take each one as its own animal.

“Fundamentally I think a lot of things are the same; things you have to do in camp in order to prepare for a season,” he said Wednesday at the dawn of a new season. “But each year is different. Players are different, teams we play are different, things change in the league, there are some rule modifications, or whatever. Things like that. So, every year is different and the chemistry – each team is different. Even with some of the same players there’s still always a little bit of a different mix.”

According to one of his most senior assistants, Belichick’s consistent approach and a willingness to adapt have been key in getting him to this point.

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10 questions for Patriots as summer begins 06.14.16 at 3:51 pm ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots are just about done with spring workouts. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and the Patriots are just about done with spring workouts. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

With the spring OTAs coming to an end this week and minicamp done, here are 10 questions — in no particular order — we still have about the Patriots as the countdown to late July and training camp begins.

1. How soon can Julian Edelman return to full strength?

If you spend time obsessively monitoring social media, it appears there is some progress when it comes to the health of Edelman. He was healthy, he was in a walking boot (for some sort of procedure on the same foot he injured late last season) and now, it appears he’s out of the boot. He wasn’t on the field all spring, at least in the workouts the media got to see. It’s not like he needs a ton of reps to get up to speed with Tom Brady, but from this perspective, getting him on the field sooner rather than later would eliminate some of the uncertainty around his situation.

2. Was Aaron Dobson’s performance a tease, or something he can build on?

There were a ton of familiar faces on the offensive side of the ball missing from minicamp, but Dobson was the guy who did the best to take advantage of the opportunities he was given. He pretty much caught everything that was thrown in his direction over the course of the three days, but what impressed us the most was his compete level when going against cornerbacks. He consistently won the one-on-one battles, and flashed some moments of real talent. For a guy who has been a non-factor the last two years, the question is now whether or not he can build on that going forward into training camp as he continues to fight an uphill battle for a roster spot at the back end of the receivers’ depth chart.

3. Is Rob Gronkowski right when it comes to Jimmy Garoppolo?

We spend a lot of time talking to people like Gronkowski and Jeff Christiansen who know more than we do about Garoppolo and his development, and they all seem to believe that he’s ready to step in to start the year if Brady is sidelined because of Deflategate. And he certainly looked the part over the course of the spring workouts — while the Patriots’ didn’t necessarily increase his workload, he looked confident and polished, at least in the sessions that were open to the media. But the truth of the matter is that there’s no way of knowing what sort of quarterback Garoppolo will be when asked to take significant snaps. As Christiansen said, the opener on the road against the Cardinals would be a challenge for any signal-caller, but at the same time, three consecutive home games would appear to set up relatively nicely for the Eastern Illinois product. Ultimately, it’s a great unknown. Like Christiansen said, that’s why we buy the tickets, right?

4. Will we get some closure on Deflategate?

We are still waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to the en banc hearing, which means — as of this writing — there’s still uncertainly around the quarterback position for the first four games of the regular season. Short answer? The Patriots would love some clarity at quarterback sooner rather than later. For what it’s worth, they didn’t appear to deviate from the norm when it came to quarterback reps over the course of the spring workouts that were attended by the media, as it went Brady, Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett.

5. Can Cyrus Jones step in and start at nickel corner?

Over the course of the spring workouts — both minicamp and OTAs — it was hard not to notice how comfortable the rookie out of Alabama looked while playing alongside starting defensive backs like Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty. At this stage of the offseason, when it comes to first-year players, all you’re looking for is that they aren’t consistent error-repeaters. And while it was hard to judge defense because there were no pads on, Jones looked to have no issues when it came to keeping up with the veterans. He’ll certainly bear watching when training camp comes around, but at this point, he appears to be headed in the right direction as a third/nickel corner. In addition, with no Edelman or Danny Amendola on the field, he had plenty of chances to work as a punt returner. While he bobbled a few, he looks like he’s certainly going to be part of the conversation at that position in 2016.

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