Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- The Patriots aren't exactly letting Dante Scarnecchia coast into the sunset of his career.

Bill Belichick's longtime offensive line coach, who retired for two years before returning in 2016, appears to have plenty of challenges ahead in 2018. 

The entire starting interior of Scarnecchia's line will be back for training camp, which has to be nice for him. And at right tackle, the team is expected to have Marcus Cannon back and healthy after he missed much of last season injured. On the left side, though, the Patriots don't have a definitive answer now that Nate Solder departed for the Giants via free agency.

After 17 years with either Solder or Matt Light as the primary left tackle, 2018 will be a major transition regardless of who gets the job.

It could go to Isaiah Wynn, the first-round rookie out of Georgia who many projected to play guard in the NFL because he checks in slightly under 6-foot-3. It could go to LaAdrian Waddle, who filled in well at right tackle when called upon in 2017. It could go to Antonio Garcia, if he's come all the way back from ailments that forced him to miss the entirety of his rookie season. It could go to Trent Brown, the player for whom the Patriots dealt a third-rounder to San Francisco on draft weekend. 

Scarnecchia will have his work cut out for him to get any of them ready to be Tom Brady's blindside protector -- even Brown, who happens to have more starting experience in the NFL than any of those names listed above but could be a unique type of challenge. 

 

Brown is one of the largest players in the NFL, listed at 6-foot-8, 355 pounds, and he's athletic enough that that Niners coach Kyle Shanahan called him "the best pass-protection tackle I've ever seen in my life." He started 10 games last season, including one on the left side, and he did not miss a snap in 16 games in 2016. As a seventh-round pick out of Florida, he started two games in 2015. 

So why, then, did the Niners end up drafting Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey with the No. 9 overall pick over the weekend, enabling them to deal Brown? 

Here's the final paragraph from NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in his story on the Brown trade:

Brown's size and athleticism has led to a lot of praise outside the building. Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller called Brown the best right tackle in the league. But the 49ers had concerns about Brown's commitment to physical conditioning, film study, work habits and learning his assignments.

Those concerns are areas of Brown's game that only he will be able to address. But Scarnecchia may be able to help Brown -- who's in the final year of his contract -- understand that if he doesn't show enough in those areas, he might not be around very long. 

Brown met with reporters on Thursday and said he's already gotten a good impression from Scarnecchia, who turned 70 in February. He'd heard plenty about Scarnecchia while playing under former Niners line coach Pat Flaherty two seasons ago.

"I've heard a lot about him since I've been here," Brown said. "In just a couple days that I've been working with him, I can tell he's going to get me better."

The Patriots have had offensive linemen get into better shape and turn themselves into high-end players. Cannon, for example, shed a significant amount of weight in 2016 and later earned second-team All-Pro honors. 

Will Brown be able to make a similar leap if he's in the condition the Patriots are looking for? He's had his work ethic questioned since before he was drafted and will need to show he's willing to put the time required before he's handed any kind of role for his first season in New England. 

At the same time, the Patriots could use plenty of tackle depth. They needed four different starters at left and right tackle last season, and it's unclear what they'll get from players like Wynn, Garcia and second-year player Cole Croston. 

Keeping Brown in shape, on board and up to speed will yield yet another opportunity, in a career littered with them, for Scarnecchia to show why he's one of the most valuable assistant coaches in the sport.

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