Patriots

Patriots

ATLANTA -- Dante Scarnecchia's voice tends to travel. In spurts from April through August, he can be heard from across the fields behind Gillette Stadium, letting players know what it is they've screwed up and how it could be done better. How it should be done better.

The tone is far different than the kinder, gentler one the 70-year-old Scarnecchia typically exhibits in his media availability sessions leading up to Super Bowls. It's a tone with which Patriots left tackle Trent Brown became very familiar very quickly.

"When I got first got here," Brown said, thinking back, "in individuals or warmups, I might've not been to the tempo that he may have liked. Just had to pick it up."

"What he was doing was unacceptable," Scarnecchia said. "You gotta let him know. If you don't tell him, he's not gonna know...He had to understand the culture. There were some tough times out there on the practice field. 

"But I look at it this way: There's no sacred cows in the meetings, none on the practice fields. There's ways we want things done. We want guys to practice in a certain manner. We want guys to prepare in a certain manner. And that can't be compromised. I think he ultimately got the message."

Safe to say he did.

Brown has been starting on Tom Brady's blind side since Week 1 and hasn't missed a game this season, playing in 97.7 percent of his team's offensive snaps. He's provided stability on the edge after a year in which the Patriots needed four different starting tackles en route to Super Bowl LII, and an offseason in which the team lost one of its leaders and its longtime left tackle Nate Solder to free agency.

 

But Brown has given the Patriots far more than a durable presence. The 6-foot-8, 380-pounder has allowed just three sacks all season, according to Pro Football Focus, and in 90 pass-blocking snaps this postseason he's given up just two hurries. No hits. No sacks. 

Brown arrived in New England in a draft-weekend trade (along with a fifth-round pick) that sent San Francisco a third-rounder. But even with Solder out of the picture, it wasn't clear he'd be the starter. 

He had to figure out the culture, he had to learn the scheme, and he had to beat out rookie first-round offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn, who'd been selected the night before Brown set foot in his new team's facilities for his physical. Brown also had to learn the footwork as a full-time left tackle since almost all of his nearly 2,000 pro snaps over three years with the Niners had come on the right side.

It didn't take long for the Patriots to realize what they had in Brown, though. He dominated when the pads came on, winning almost every pass-protection rep in training camp and overpowering people in running-game drills. 

"We were kind of blown away," center David Andrews said, "at some of the things he was able to do... some of the stuff in the run game he could do. He's so big he could kind of swallow up people. It was pretty impressive. Same thing in pass pro. He's just so big, hard to get around. He has great length, great strength. He's a good football player."

"I always knew he was great," Shaq Mason said. "Nobody could beat him in pass blocks. But his dominance in the run game really jumped out to me. He's just physically bigger than everyone else. The way he can dominate and move in the run game, I was like 'OK.'"

When Wynn tore his Achilles in the preseason, there was no doubt who the left tackle would be. Almost six months later, Brown is slated to play a key role in Super Bowl LIII, likely matching up with Rams speed rusher Dante Fowler quite a bit, and he'll be in line for a significant raise this offseason when he hits free agency as one of the only proven blind-side protectors in this year's class.

"JUST HOW WE DO THINGS"
It took more than some jaw-dropping feats of strength, though, for Brown to get to this point. There was a process. 

Those early practices mattered when he had to figure out the tempo Scarnecchia wanted. And the daily expectations at Gillette Stadium required some adjustments on Brown's part. He came to New England dogged by a reputation that indicated he didn't want to work. It had been reported that he checked into the Niners overweight before being dealt.

 

If those things were true, and if those things continued, odds were Brown wasn't going to last long under Bill Belichick. Running the hills behind Gillette Stadium and paying attention to small, seemingly inconsequential details -- like carefully lining up helmets side-by-side in post-practice cool-down periods -- simply came with the territory at his new place of employment. 

"I think it's mostly just how we do things," Ted Karras said of the most challenging aspects of transitioning to the Patriots. "If you can be uniform with just how everyone's doing something. And I think that was the biggest thing for me. The verbiage and stuff, that's football stuff. That's learning a system and taking the meetings to the field. But I think when it comes down to it, there's a certain way things are done around here. If you can mimic and be brought along to do them, you'll be fortunate to carve a role."

As are most things that pertain to an offensive line, Brown's education on the ins and outs of the Patriots system -- when it came to matters both on the field and off -- was a group effort. 

Brown knew Mason before he even arrived as the two shared a mutual friend from Brown's hometown of Albany, Georgia -- former Georgia Tech offensive lineman Brian Chamberlin -- and had spent time together hanging out on campus. He knew many of the same people Andrews did because the two were part of the same college recruiting class coming out of the Georgia prep ranks. 

Between those two, Karras, Joe Thuney, Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle, Brown was walking into a place where most of Brady's up-front protectors had already spent at least three years together. But Brown felt he became part of the group quickly. They welcomed him with open arms, got him up to speed on the day-to-day work, worked out with him, brought him to dinner, and invited him to Celtics games.

That kind of orientation, Brown said, is what helped him catch up as quickly as he did.

"When you approach the game with a family-oriented attitude, I feel like all the other stuff will come easy," he explained. "Once you get that continuity and that camaraderie, everything else falls into place pretty easy."

"That's what makes this sport so interesting," Andrews said. "You spend so much time together. You spend time eating together. Especially during the summer. During training camp, you're with each other every day, for every minute. You grow these bonds and they happen a lot faster than they do in the real world sometimes. I think that's what makes this game so cool. He came in. Bought in. Bought into what we were doing. It was a pretty easy transition."

THUNEY'S INFLUENCE
With the culture starting to grow on Brown, then there was that small matter of learning a brand new offensive system, perhaps among the most complex in football. Both Scarnecchia and Belichick have credited Thuney, Brown's neighbor on the line at left guard, for helping to tutor Brown in the language of the Patriots scheme and showing him what to look for when things move quickly on game day. 

 

Scarnecchia called Thuney's influence on Brown "huge."

"Just spent time in the film room a lot before the season," Thuney said. "Just trying to watch our plays and teach. Show what we're doing, how we do it, what we're thinking on certain things. He's great. We communicate a lot. We ask questions. Bounce ideas off each other. We're constantly talking about it, walking through it through repetition and practice."

It wasn't long before Brown found that he was getting help with the offense randomly throughout the day from his 300-pound teammates. Walking into the building. In the cafeteria. 

And after hours, if there was extra film for him to watch, the rest of the offensive line -- even though the majority of the room already knew the nuances of the scheme and were comfortable with the verbiage -- would be there with him. 

"We're brothers, man," Mason said. "We know we're gonna do extra film work. So whatever you had going on, push it back. Because we gotta get this done if we're gonna get where we're going."

"We're all connected," Scarnecchia said. "Coaches, players. All segments of the offense, defense. All positions. And so if the one link's not very good, we're going to have a hard time. To his credit, he's made himself a viable player in our offense and a guy we rely on quite a bit to help."

NOT A FILM BUFF
Now, will Brown be up for the title of Mr. Patriot any time soon? Given his admitted reluctance to dive into the film on a day-in, day-out basis...maybe not. 

“I feel like I don’t need to watch film,” he told NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. “I play my game and use the techniques my coaches teach me and be able to work on daily. And people have to come play Trent Brown.”

"It's funny because I always thought he was really interested in the films we were watching," Scarnecchia said later, smiling. "I'm disappointed."

Scarnecchia added: "I know he cares. He doesn’t like to mess up. We’re all pleased. He’s been our left tackle the whole season. We’ve needed him bad to come through, and he has come through. And he needs to come through one more game."

Days before the biggest game of his life, Brown credited the people around him for his ability to adapt to a new place, a new culture, and thrive as he has. He credited the tough-love teaching he got from Scarnecchia. "Soon as I got here, I was like, 'Damn, I like him' . . . I call him a friend." He credited the immediate and lasting embrace he received from his teammates.

 

Together they pushed him. In turn, he developed into a dependable link on the chain spinning the wheel that has driven the team's late-season success.

"When you're around those type of guys that always want to be better, you either fall in line or fall by the wayside," Brown said. "I fell in line."

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