It's not exactly a been-there-done-that situation for Joe Thuney. But if the Patriots asked their starting left guard of the last four years to bounce over to the right side of the line and play tackle?
He has ... technically ... been there and done that.
Eight snaps. Thuney saw eight snaps at right tackle last season in the season-opener after Marcus Cannon left the game injured. And now that Cannon has opted out of the 2020 season, folks want to know if Thuney will once again be the "next man up" at that position.
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"Whatever can help the team," he said in a video conference call with reporters Wednesday. "I think I got a couple right tackle snaps in the Pittsburgh game, the opening game last year. Whatever can help the team. Doesn't matter where. Trying to do what I can, try to use the tools that I have to help the team. Whatever's necessary. I just want to be out there and playing."
Perhaps the most important question the Patriots have to answer as they get ready for the regular season to kick off — outside of, "Is Cam Newton healthy?" — is what will they do at right tackle in Cannon's absence? There is no clear replacement.
Could be 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste. Could be last year's early-season trade acquisition Korey Cunningham. Could be Thuney.
But how that question gets answered could go a long way in determining wins and losses for Bill Belichick's club as it takes on a regular-season schedule loaded with dominating pass-rushers who like to go to work against right tackles.
"Definitely different," Thuney said of his brief experience at right tackle. "I think the coaches did a great job of trying to get reps and everything in practices. We got a lot of guys who get reps at different positions just because you never know. You go into a game with seven o-linemen usually. The more you can do, the better. Just tried to keep the fundamentals the same and do whatever I could."
The issue with shifting Thuney over to that side, would be that for whatever comfort Josh McDaniels and his offense would be granted in making the move, the team would be paying for it with a drop-off at left guard. Thuney has in the last few seasons established himself as one of the best left guards in football, earning the franchise tag this offseason which will guarantee him almost $15 million for the year.
It's a weighty conundrum. Move a very good player to a spot where he might not be as effective and replace him with a backup? Or, if that's considered robbing Peter to pay Paul, roll with a complete unknown at one of the most important positions on the line? Is it easier to find a serviceable replacement at guard or tackle? Who's available?
All of those questions will end up determining the Patriots' plan up front in some way shape or form.
Tasked with replacing left tackle Isaiah Wynn in 2019, the Patriots opted to sign veteran street free agent Marshall Newhouse and make him a starter rather than, say, bump Thuney out to left tackle and insert reserve Jermaine Eluemunor at left guard. Perhaps that strategy is indicative of how the Patriots proceed this season. Or perhaps Newhouse's performance last season as a fill-in will urge them to take a different approach.
Whatever they decide, it sounds like Thuney — who's going into a contract year while on the tag — will be OK with it.
"You're dealing with different body types, going from guard to end," Thuney explained. "Your legs and arms are reversed and stuff, I guess. We do a great job moving guys around in practice so it's not the first time you've ever taken a snap on the right side during the game.
"Just the next-man-up mentality, and if that means shifting someone over that means shifting someone over. Just trying to do what I can. Just want to help the team and want to be out there."