Scarnecchia constant anchor in ever-changing offensive line

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Scarnecchia constant anchor in ever-changing offensive line

FOXBORO -- Dante Scarnecchia's gray t-shirt, tucked neatly into his shorts, had turned a few shades darker with sweat. Haunched at the waist, he leaned forward as if he wanted to stick his nose in the middle of a drill between two Patriots offensive linemen almost twice his size, and he coached.

Scarnecchia has been a staple on the Patriots coaching staff for three decades. He has held several titles, from defensive assistant to special teams coach and tight ends coach, and for the last 14 seasons the offensive line has been his responsibility.

During training camp, Scarnecchia's group of Tom-Brady-protectors has been in a constant state of flux, but coach Bill Belichick knows that regardless of the line's moving parts, it's in good hands.

"He's awesome. He's awesome," Belichick said of Scarnecchia. "Dante's a great coach on every level. He's real good with X's and O's. He does a great job with the veteran players. He's brought along and developed many of our young players, rookie players, draft choices, free agents . . . taken guys off the practice squad and built them into starters or contributors on the line. He's invaluable.

"I think not only myself, but a lot of other people on the staff as well, other coaching staff members, rely on him for advice or ask him questions, take advantage of his experience. He's had not only experience on the offensive line, but he's coached special teams, he's coached defense. He's really got a great breadth in his coaching career and experience level as well as great proficiency in the offensive line and how well he's done with that group since I've been here and before that. He does a tremendous job."

The offensive line has been one big chemistry experiment during Patriots training camp because players who were mainstays last season are either hurt, or just not around. Logan Mankins is out injured, as is Sebastian Vollmer. Brian Waters still hasn't reported, and Matt Light is retired. Second-year tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon have received most of the first-team reps, but there's been significant mixing and matching on the interior line. Dan Koppen, who missed all of last season after suffering an injury in Week 1, has been back at center with the first-team offense. His replacement last season, Dan Connolly, has moved back to guard, and presumed backups Robert Gallery and Donald Thomas have both seen time at guard with the first team. Ryan Wendell has also manned spots at both guard and center.

With Scarnecchia in their ears, they all know that they need to be ready -- and ready to play multiple positions on the line -- whenever called upon.

"The key to playing in the league is to be versatile," Thomas said. "To be able to play, in my case, at least both guards, and if my number's called for center I gotta be ready to do that. A lot of guys play guard and tackle or center and guard so there's a lot of moving parts, but guys know how to fill in. We all watch the same film so we all watch each other's mistakes. When you get put in there, you just have to know how to perform at that position."

And if they don't, Scarnecchia, who also holds the title of assistant head coach, will let them know.

"He wants it his way, and it's the right way," Thomas said. "So you can't argue with it. He's gonna stay on top of you, he doesn't care who you are, if you've been with him for eight, ten years, or if it's your first day. He's going to coach you like he wants to coach you and you're gonna give him what he wants.

"He can raise his voice from time to time. But we really listen to him so he hasn't had to flip out that much yet. But he gets on us though . . . He wants it right so you can't be mad at him."

Koppen has spent his entire NFL career being coached by Scarnecchia and said he may not be in his tenth training camp if it wasn't for the 64-year-old.

"He's very demanding," Koppen said. "He's your biggest fan when you do things right, and he'll tell you when you do it wrong. That's what you want from a coach."

Scarnecchia doesn't often do interviews, but he doesn't have to. His players and fellow coaches are quick to praise him, and it's apparent that they trust in him no matter how many revisions his offensive line endures.

"Our offensive line are really well coached, I know that," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "I have great faith in Dante and the job that he's done here, and I appreciate him more and more everyday that i work with him. I have no reservations about the way that those guys will prepare in that meeting room and be ready to go when it's their turn or when they're called upon."

Belichick convinces UDFA to sign, tells him to be in shape

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Belichick convinces UDFA to sign, tells him to be in shape

The moments following the final round of the NFL draft are always a whirlwind because the work done by those in their respective war rooms isn't finished. Every year, coaches and personnel staffers work their phones calling undrafted free-agents in order to round out their rosters with passed-over talent.

Arizona State receiver and running back D.J. Foster was one of those fielding calls on Saturday, giving his cell battery a workout. The Cardinals, Texans and Patriots all came calling, and he was leaning toward what he considered his hometown team in Arizona.

Then the Patriots deployed their top recruiting weapon: coach Bill Belichick.

You can watch Foster's draft day ordeal here with this video put together by 12News.com in Phoenix.

When he's made his decision he gets a call from one team employee telling him how "fired up" they are to have him on board. Then Belichick calls again, his mission accomplished, to first congratulate Foster and then order him to be in shape for rookie minicamp.

Foster was barely in elementary school when Belichick and Tom Brady helped the Patriots win their  first Super Bowl. Ever since, they've been one of the most consistently successful teams in football.

That track record couldn't have hurt Foster in his decision-making process, but it seems as though he was proposed the best financial deal by the Patriots. They're also a team that won't be afraid to try players at multiple positions. The fact that Foster considers himself both a running back and a receiver could be seen as beneficial in regards to him making the team. Being labeled a "'tweener" isn't always a detriment.

In the Patriots offense, there is room for a player with Foster's skill set. Perhaps he will work alongside Dion Lewis and James White as a "sub back," who specializes in the passing game and poses a threat either lined up in the backfield or out wide like a receiver. The other option would be for Foster to serve as a full-time receiver -- something he focused on last season -- who might be best suited for the slot. As an undrafted rookie, he'll also likely be expected to contribute in the kicking game in some way shape or form.

Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

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Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

Is the Patriots roster so loaded that Tom Brady can be suspended for four games, and they're still the favorites to win it all? 

Apparently so, according to odds released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Not long after the completion of this year's draft, the Patriots were favored at 6-1 to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy even though their quarterback is scheduled to miss the first month of the season after his Deflategate punishment was recently reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady plans to appeal that ruling. 

Next on the list of favorites are the Seahawks, Steelers and Packers, all of whom are tied at 8-1. The Panthers, who fell in Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos, have 9-1 odds to redeem themselves after last season's defeat and walk away winners. 

The Patriots are, of course, favored to win the AFC (3-1) and the AFC East (4-9), and their season win total projection has been set at 10.5.

Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

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Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

Three mid-week thoughts for your perusal . . . 

-- I was 100 percent behind the drafting of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And then I read comments about the kid from Charlie Weis and Bill Parcells in Karen Guregian's excellent story in the Boston Herald on Tuesday.

Now I'm down to about 80 percent.

"He's a Curtis Martin-, Willie McGinest-, Troy Brown-type of player,'' said Parcells. "That's the kind of guy he is. That's what New England is getting. Those kind, those Tedy Bruschi types, those players who've been successful -- he's very similar in his personal life to those kinds of guys.''

"Let me tell you,'' added Weis, "this kid, from the time he was in high school, is the Pied Piper . . . He was definitely the leader of the pack. In the quarterback position, I think that's a critical factor. And that's what he was.''

Added Parcells: "He has zero personal issues.''

So why would glowing reports cause me to like the pick less? File under: Too good to be true.

I read those quotes and get the feeling I'm being sold something, which shakes my confidence a bit. Plus, it's a little too much on the intangible element. Character is certainly important at the position. In fact, it's crucial. But if intangibles were the only thing that mattered, Tim Tebow would have been an NFL QB. And we all know how that turned out.

Bottom line: I still like the pick. I still want the Pats drafting and developing quarterbacks. I just smell a bit of bull crap.

-- Chris Mannix nailed it regarding what it would take for the Celtics to lure Kevin Durant to Boston.

"Boston's ability to lure him is going to come down to who else they can get. You can't walk into a meeting with Kevin Durant and say, 'We've got Isiah Thomas and 97 draft picks; we're going to be good in a few years','' he told Toucher and Rich Tuesday morning. "Kevin doesn't want to hear that . . . What he wants to hear is that we're ready to win now . . . They have to come to the table with a Jimmy Butler, with a Bradley Beal, with an Al Horford. They can't just come with Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge and a bunch of draft picks.''

In other words, the pieces on the current roster aren't nearly as good as they looked in the regular season. And, no, Thomas is not a franchise player. And, finally, don't get too attached to those picks, no matter where the ping pong balls land.

-- I wonder if the Bruins look at the current landscape in net across the NHL playoffs and consider how wise it is to pay their goalie, Tuukka Rask, $7 million a year.

Still alive are guys like the Islanders' Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million cap hit), the Blues' Brian Ellliott ($2.5 million), the Sharks' Martin Jones ($3 million) and Penguins rookie Matt Murray ($620,000). Out are 8 of the top 10 highest-paid goalies in the league, a list including Henri Lundqvist, Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller and, of course, Rask.

Please note: No one is saying you can get away with shoddy goaltending in the playoffs. It's an unassailable fact that you need elite play in net to contend for Stanley Cups. The question is what you have to pay for it. 

And in that regard, this year is no aberration. Sometimes you have to pay through the nose for it, and sometimes it just falls in your lap.

Can the Bruins get away with trying to survive in that second camp? Good question. This much I know: Paying Rask $7 million a year to miss the playoffs two straight years isn't doing anyone any good.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.