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."

Tom Brady on Donald Trump: 'I certainly disagree with what he said'

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Tom Brady on Donald Trump: 'I certainly disagree with what he said'

After beating the Texans on Sunday, 36-33, Tom Brady didn't want to delve too deeply into what went into his locking arms with teammates during the national anthem. 

"I just think," Brady said, "there's just a great love for my teammates."

He didn't want to get into Donald Trump's comments about players kneeling for the anthem, but he was willing to go there during Monday's Kirk and Callahan Show on WEEI.

"Yeah, I certainly disagree with what he said," Brady explained. "I thought it was just divisive. Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me. That is how I try and live every day.

"I have been blessed to be in locker rooms with guys all over the United States over the course of my career. Some of my great friends are from Florida, Virginia, New York, Montana, Colorado, Texas. The one thing about football is it brings so many guys together -- guys you would never have the opportunity to be around. Whether it was in college, and all the way into the pros. We’re all different, we’re all unique. That is what makes us all special."

Brady was one of several players locking arms on the Patriots sideline for the anthem. More than a dozen others, including Devin McCourty, took a knee. Just before and immediately after the anthem, fans booed the demonstration.

"I think everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do," Brady said of the response. "If you don’t agree, that is fine. You can voice your disagreement, I think that is great. It’s part of our democracy. As long as it is done in a peaceful, respectful way, that is what our country has been all about."

Curran: In the end, everyone stood because of the game

Curran: In the end, everyone stood because of the game

FOXBORO – The boos and demands to “Stand up!” rained down just as the Star Spangled Banner began. The players on the Patriots sideline who knelt – the ones boos and invective was directed at – stayed down. Others stood, locking arms with teammates while others stood with their hands over their hearts.

By game’s end, everyone was on their feet. Players. Coaches. Fans. Together.

Unless they left early because of traffic and a late Patriots deficit. Or because they couldn’t bear the thought of watching an NFL game on a beautiful September Sunday because the entertainers didn’t do what they wanted them to do before the performance began.

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The whole thing’s complicated. I understand why people take offense at those who don’t stand for the anthem.

I understand why others want to deliver a symbolic message about their American experience.

I completely understand why, two days after President Trump thought it appropriate to use the phrase “son of a bitch” to refer to someone making a silent, reflective statement, many NFL players felt challenged, backed into a corner and somewhat dehumanized. The message delivered was, in essence, “Shut up and dance.”

Personally, I prefer to stick to sports. I don’t think I’m equipped to talk politics because I don’t know policy, legislation, constituencies and special interests – all the things that I define as politics – well enough to drone on at anybody.

As for sociology – which is what this is about rather than politics – I have my experiences and others have theirs. I’m trying to mow my own lawn over here. You do you. I’ll do me. As long as you don’t encroach on me doing me while you do you, I’m fine. When I’m not completely self-absorbed, a respectful exchange of ideas can make me see things in a different light.

It didn’t surprise me some people at Gillette Stadium had a visceral and vocal reaction to players kneeling. The pot was brought to a boil all weekend, the lid was just lifted and it bubbled over.

But the irony of how the afternoon played out – that Brandin Cooks, a player booing fans were screaming at to stand three hours earlier brought them to their feet with his toe-tapping last-minute touchdown – was perfectly symbolic.

Ultimately, everyone was there for the football – the players, coaches, media and fans – and in the end it was the football that brought the unified response that stood in contrast to the divided reactions in the stands and on the field before the game.

“That’s what sports is,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “That’s what sports does. That’s what makes them great. They bring out what we have in common.

“I don’t think people look at us as human,” McCourty said. “I don’t think they ever have. We’re just the entertainment. They don’t understand that there’s a human behind it. People want to shake your hand or have their picture taken with you but they don’t want to know you. That’s reality.”

Maybe. Or maybe people feel their voices aren’t heard. They don’t have a column they can write or a TV or radio show to spout off on. They don’t have the chance to demonstrate their individual feelings at their cubicle before the workday starts.

All they know is they spent $500 or more to get to and into with a belly full of steak tips and beer and they don’t need to feel like being reminded about somebody else’s societal oppression on their day off, thank you very much.

It’s not so much about who does what during the Star Spangled Banner as much as it is that a lot of people don’t appreciate the intrusion. That, and they’re tired of hearing how bad everyone else has it when it’s really no damn picnic for most people these days.

Believe me, there’s not unanimity of opinion in the Patriots locker room any more than there is in your office, home, dorm or neighborhood. Players of different races, backgrounds, economic circumstances and ways of expressing themselves are thrown in a pot together and told to work for a common goal and rely on each other.

The mish-mash of ways in which players responded during the anthem on the Patriots sideline, the reticence of some players to dip a toe in the conversation, McCourty’s opening statement at the podium and then his declining to take questions and Bill Belichick’s comment that he would “deal with that later” all seemed to indicate that the team itself is still working through how it expresses itself as a whole.

It’s complicated for them too.

But in the end, it was the football that bound them together. It was the game that left them jumping on each other and the fans standing and screaming and nobody thinking at all about who did what when the song played before the game.

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