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."

Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

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Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

NFL Siberia can’t be all that bad. The Cleveland Browns have signed Jamie Collins to an extension that keeps him off the free agent market.

The former Patriot, stunningly shipped out of town on Halloween, has agreed to a reported four-year, $50 million deal with $26M in guaranteed money.

As eyebrow-raising as the move was at the time, this is an all’s well that ends well story.

Collins, a reluctant Patriot once it came clear the team wouldn’t to aim a confetti cannon of money at him, gets the desired big-dough deal. He didn’t drape himself in glory with his level of play this year in New England, but his agitation over making $900K this year was understandable.

The Patriots -- who made the deal not knowing exactly how it would work out with Collins’ fleet of replacements (primarily rookie Elandon Roberts and, October acquisition Kyle Van Noy) -- have played better defense since Collins has been gone and are headed to the Super Bowl.

Would they have been better if Collins stayed? The answer to that is a question: Which version of Collins, the irked one or the motivated one?

Collins did nothing to veil his desire for a huge contract, saying at the end of the season he’d stay with the hapless Browns if the money was right. Now that he’s decided the money was right, what kind of Collins will the Browns get? With $26M guaranteed, the Browns have tethered themselves to the 27-year-old Collins for a chunk of his prime. The shorter term is ideal for Collins because -- if he performs to his capability -- he’ll be able to see another lucrative deal before he’s too aged.

The deal will certainly be noticed by Collins’ former teammates, primarily Donta Hightower who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

The Patriots could franchise Hightower (last year’s tag number was more than $14M) but that’s not going to be ideal for either side. Hightower will want to get the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal and the Patriots may be reluctant to pay that much to a player that’s got an injury history and plays one of the game’s most violent positions.

A lot’s going to happen between now and the time the Patriots have to make their decision. A good deal of it will happen in the next 12 days. If Hightower stealthily saves the Super Bowl as he did in 2014 with his first-down tackle on Marshawn Lynch … how do you put a price on that?