BLOOMINGTON, Minnesota -- The way in which Patriots offensive linemen practice embodies their collective mantra: They grind away out of sight, hoping not to be noticed.
Yet despite usually taking up residence on a far corner of the team's practice fields at Gillette Stadium -- as far away as possible from the gaze of media and fans -- every so often, during training camp, all eyes turn to Tom Brady's protectors and their five-man sled.
When that particular implement of destruction of wills is dragged out into the open and placed on one goal line for everyone to see, it becomes Dante Scarnecchia's version of the torture rack. The expectation? Take the five blue pads strapped onto five heavy strips of recoiling metal, and push it 100 yards. Quickly. With coaches screaming in your earholes.
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Nate Solder, with the team since 2011, is familiar with the task. In those moments, it's safe to say there are other places he'd rather be.
"What runs through your mind? That's not a fun drill to do," he said.
"That's strictly a conditioning drill. That's strictly a toughness, physicality drill. That's a camp drill for sure."
David Andrews, a captain in his third year, put it more simply when asked what he's thinking when he's in the middle of that dreaded 100-yard march.
"Probably cussing something," he said.
But that drill, completed during the dog days of camp and then put away, helps establish the approach to which the largest Patriots on the roster adhere for the entirety of the season. They know it's critical to the overall success of the offense for them to be well-conditioned. All the proof they need is on tape.
Flip on, for example, two of their most dramatic victories from the last 12 months. Against the Jaguars in the AFC title game, the Patriots offensive line was able to outlast Jacksonville's uber-talented front and provide Brady with the time he needed to orchestrate another dramatic fourth-quarter comeback victory. Against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots pass-blocked 76 times. By the end of the game, Atlanta's defensive front was gassed, Brady had time to make precise reads and accurate throws, and the franchise left Houston with its fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Against the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, the Patriots will be faced with their toughest endurance test. Unlike Jacksonville or Atlanta, Philadelphia has the ability to rotate eight talented defensive linemen onto the field. That means that their pass-rushers should be fresher longer into the game, and Brady could find himself in some tight spots in the fourth quarter more frequently.
The Patriots won't alter their program this week in order to account for Philly's depth, instead relying on the work they've put in since the summer to carry them.
"There's just a big commitment from the guys," Andrews said. "That's not just something that happens overnight. I wish it was something that's very easy to do. It starts in the offseason. Guys coming back in the summer. I think Scar does a great job of conditioning us in practice. Practice is never easy. They make it as hard as they can for us."
It's not all five-man sled work. Or gassers. Or sprints up the hills.
Or their off-the-field training. It's a combination of those things.
And oftentimes something as simple as the pace of practice helps get them to where they need to be in terms of their wind.
"It's just keeping your heart rate up, going from drill to drill quickly," Solder said. "Making those drills high-intensity. Making them fast. Making things go quickly so that you're always working hard."
"I think it's just pushing tempo, pushing guys," Andrews added, "and I think we respond really well to that."
The Patriots are viewed as an athletic front that can get out in front of pass-catchers in the screen game or easily work up to the second level in the run game. But they need to maintain their strength in order to execute their jobs, and so three days of weight training with head strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and assistant James Hardy are just as crucial as the cardio facets of their regimen.
"I definitely am always looking to maintain their muscle mass,"
Cabrera said this week. "It gets measured . . . As long as they maintain the muscle mass, they really don't get much lighter than they are. They're always right around where they're supposed to be. They're always training how they're supposed to. I think it builds from there for us."
Having linemen who are conscientious about all aspects of their training and nutrition helps make the road to a well-conditioned unit a little smoother, Cabrera explained. Getting the big fellas to do their work hasn't been an issue.
"If you're a worker, you're a worker," Cabrera said. "If you're lazy, you're lazy. Doesn't matter if you're big or small or whatever. The thing is they're all professional athletes. They have a goal. And I think they're all consistent in the way they handle their business.
"I think that's really a credit to Bill [Belichick], the culture, the way they're developed, and how they're brought here. Just because they're big doesn't necessarily mean they're not going do the work or they're not going to run. They're all great at that."
That applies even when the sled comes out. Because as badly as players may not want to drive it the length of the field, they understand it'll help them should they find themselves down in the fourth quarter with a championship on the line.
"You know at the time it sucks and it's not fun," Andrews said. "But you're going to reach down one day and you're going to need that moment."
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