Nate Solder

Light: Scarnecchia the key in getting a left tackle ready

Light: Scarnecchia the key in getting a left tackle ready

The Patriots have been fortunate in that they've benefited from having abnormally consistent personnel at some of the game's most critical positions. Tom Brady at quarterback is obvious. Having Adam Vinatieri and Stephen Gostkowski at kicker has been a luxury Bill Belichick has referenced many times in recent years.

Left tackle has been a similarly steady spot. Belichick began with longtime starter Bruce Armstrong in 2000. Then Matt Light took over, almost uninterrupted save for a serious injury in 2005, from 2001 through 2011. Then it was Nate Solder who manned Brady's blindside from 2012 through last season.

Now? It's the biggest question mark on the Patriots roster. Light's aware. And after it was announced that he'd be this year's inductee for the Hall at Patriot Place, he explained how critical offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia will be for the club as it transitions to whoever is next up at that position.

"I'm not sure it's as appreciated as it should be," Light said Wednesday, "but the work that Dante does and the work that he puts into the offseason, and the work that he puts in with the young guys who come into the organization, and how he motivates those guys and pushes them to be in the best position possible to play the game, I’ve got a lot of confidence in his ability to prepare the guys that he thinks are the best to take the field. And maybe that means they’re going to be juggling a lot of guys in and out and trying to play multiple positions, and getting them in the fire a little bit and seeing how they react."

Light recalled the work done behind the scenes by Scarnecchia and his teammates when he went down with an injury, whether it was a minor issue or a long-term one. 

"They've done it in the past," Light said. "There were times that I went down and Nick Kazcur, Tom Ashworth, the guys that backed up and played the tackle position. We got a lot of great play from those guys. The all-time swing guy Russ Hochstein, and the different ways that Dante had guys ready to go in and fill the void. And it's a big void. It’s definitely something that we’re all going to be keeping an eye on. It’ll be interesting to see how they do it and how teams try to take advantage of maybe a younger player or a guy that doesn’t have as many snaps . . . They'll be ready to roll. They'll be prepared."

That "younger player" could very well be first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn. Wynn is considered undersized for the position, but he put together a strong resume in the nation's best conference while at Georgia. He's cut from a very different mold compared to Solder, and if he's chosen to start the season as the anchor on the left side, he'll have very big shoes to fill, Light explained. 

"Nate’s not a guy you can just replace," Light said. "No. 1, because he’s a ridiculously large mammal. I’ll never forget the first time I met him, I thought, man, it shouldn’t be right that guys like this are designed the way they are. No fat. Runs like a deer. Has got the reach and the wingspan of a vulture. The guy’s just unbelievably talented in so many ways, and he’s smart. Nate was a very smart, cerebral player. You don’t replace a guy like that overnight . . . 

“They’ve got some guys that have had a little bit of experience and seen some stuff, but overall, you got, it looks as though you’re going to be going with a guy that may have zero experience in the NFL. Who knows how it all shakes out. But it’s been done before.”

Light started 12 of the 14 games he played as a rookie. (He explained he was benched to start the season-opener his rookie year because he got stuck in traffic behind a jack-knifed tractor trailer somewhere between Cincinnati and the team hotel in Kentucky.) But his performance on the left side that year, which culminated in the franchise's first Super Bowl, propelled him to an illustrious career and an induction to the team's hall of fame that will take place on Sept. 29.

"It's very humbling," Light said. "It's the biggest honor that I could think of to be honored by the people in the community and the fans that really understood you as a player. This is hard to put into words really. I had an opportunity to come to New England and play football. I didn't have any major dreams growing up as a kid to be an NFL player. I was one of these guys as an NFL player who was extremely fortunate to not only make it to the NFL but make it to an organization that put winning first, but right behind that did so many other things that made my experience extremely special, whether it was the community side of the organization and giving back, the people I got to meet, raising my family here in New England. 

"There are so many things about my NFL experience that is truly unique. I just gotta say that an honor like this, it's hard for me to not bring up the guys . . . so many guys that I look up to and so many guys that I feel deserve this award. It's just hard to believe that this is something that I'm now gonna be able to say that I'm a Hall of Famer for the Patriots, it's tough for me to really grasp that."

Light said he missed Robert Kraft's initial call to let him know he'd won the online fan vote, beating out Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour to be this year's inductee. When he finally got the call, it was a day later, and he was in the woods of Burrillville, Rhode Island, "chasing the elusive wild turkey."

"Apparently turning my cell phone off [Tuesday] wasn't a good idea," he said. "We were running a leadership conference for some kids in Brockton, New Bedford, Fall River at Bridgewater State for the [Light] Foundation and I missed a call from Mr. Kraft. [Wednesday] morning, I know he was juggling a lot . . . but in between a busy schedule that he had, he reached out and let me know that I was joining a very special group, and that this was gonna be a special year for the Hall. They're celebrating their 10th year. Just to have him call and let me know that the Hall of Fame -- the selection committee, and of course the fans --voted to bring me in, it's just really special."

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Scarnecchia on offensive tackle arm length: 'That [expletive] is way overrated'

Scarnecchia on offensive tackle arm length: 'That [expletive] is way overrated'

FOXBORO - When Dante Scarnecchia describes the types of qualities he's looking for in his linemen, the list has always been the same.

"We covet three things when we look for offensive linemen," Scarnecchia said before Super Bowl LII. "They have to be smart, they have to be tough, and they have to be athletic enough."

Nothing in there about arm length.

"That [expletive] is way overrated," he told reporters on Friday afternoon.

The topic was, of course, New England's first-round pick Isaiah Wynn. The University of Georgia product measured in at this year's combine a shade under 6-foot-3. His hands were listed at 8.5 inches. Those marks would be considered undersized by Patriots (and league-wide) tackle standards. But Scarnecchia explained that Wynn will get a shot to become the team's left tackle in 2018.

"He's played left tackle in the best conference in America," Scarnecchia said. "Played it pretty good. We're going to take a look at it, and see how it goes."

The Patriots have shown they aren't afraid to adjust their size requirements at tackle in the past. Matt Light was on the shorter end for a starting tackle under Bill Belichick at a shade under 6-foot-5, about two inches taller than Wynn. Belichick has not drafted a tackle in New England with hands smaller than nine inches. 

Working in Wynn's favor is that his arms (about 33.5 inches) are standard-issue length for Patriots tackles. Light's arms were 33.5 inches. Sebastian Vollmer's were 33.25 inches. But when it comes to height and hand size, Wynn would kind of be breaking the mold.
 
Scarnecchia doesn't care much for molds, though.

"What's the mold? Someone tell me what the mold looks like," Scarnecchia told reporters. "And if you only draft to that mold, I don't think that's the smartest thing to do."

The Patriots reportedly released second-year tackle Tony Garcia with a non-football injury designation on Friday, leaving Wynn, Trent Brown, LaAdrian Waddle and Cole Croston among the players competing for time at tackle. Scarnecchia indicated that the team would like to try to keep Marcus Cannon, a staple on the right side the last two seasons when healthy, at right tackle. 

Wynn, Brown, Cannon and guard Joe Thuney will all miss on-the-field work until training camp as they come back from injury, Scarnecchia said, meaning the coaching staff will have plenty of opportunities to see some of their big bodies take on different responsibilities in passing camp.

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Curran's First-and-5: A running back in Round 1? Yes, a running back

Curran's First-and-5: A running back in Round 1? Yes, a running back

First...

Isaiah Wynn and Sony Michel. Uhhhhh, not the first-round combo platter I was expecting.

Nor was anyone else. The Patriots, in general, won’t tell nobody nothing about nothing. But that’s not the only reason their draft targets are almost impossible to predict.

Since they are almost always picking in the latter part of the first round, they are at the mercy of the teams in front of them. And the equation changes over and over and over again to the point where we are all just doing a more educated version of the Felger & Mazz Big Board routine.

There’s your disclaimer. So when I say that I like the Isaiah Wynn pick and really look forward to watching Sony Michel, don’t give me the “Well, why didn’t you say that before the draft, big nose?!”

Watch Wynn work against Oklahoma and Alabama a few months ago. He’s a precise mauler in the running game, he logs stalemate after stalemate in the passing game, he’s never off-balance and he finishes.  Just a very good player against very good competition.

The question is whether Wynn is a guard or a tackle because he’s stubby for an NFL left tackle at just under 6-foot-3 with 33 1/2-inch arms. 

Nate Solder is 6-8 with 35 1/2 wings. Matt Light was just under 6-foot-5 and also had 33 1/2-inch arms. 

The height and arm length matter because the initial punch delivered by an offensive lineman in pass protection should stun the rusher and keep him at bay. If the rusher has longer arms, he can minimize the impact of the punch or use a “long arm” or “hump move” to get his hands on the offensive lineman and dictate how things will go that play (check out this fun Ringer story for examples).

The tradeoff with Wynn is that he’s got outstanding feet and power.

We all agreed before the draft that offensive tackle was a need. Useful backup La’Adrian Waddle and last year’s third-rounder, Antonio Garcia are in the mix already. So is undrafted second-year player Cole Croston. So the Patriots took a player who doesn’t fit the suit but is probably a better offensive lineman than all of them.

And if, for example, Garcia works out, Wynn can play guard. I did not enjoy the 2017 Joe Thuney Experience. He gets walked back into Tom Brady’s lap far too often at left guard. Meanwhile, right guard Shaq Mason – a good player the team developed out of Georgia Tech – is in the final year of his contract and will probably be one of the best guards on the market if he chooses to go there.

The Patriots traded for Trent Brown, a 2015 seventh-rounder and part-time starter at left tackle. 
 
We’ll see on that but it’s not like he’s Anthony Munoz out there.

Last note on Wynn, he tore his labrum against Kentucky and had surgery in January but says he’ll be good to go for minicamp in June.

As for Michel, who doesn’t love watching ballhandling talent? It’s just that the Patriots have been at the forefront of MacGyvering a running game out of spare parts so spending a first-rounder on a guy was – I thought – anathema to them. But the guy looks on some runs like he runs about a 3.1, he catches the ball well and he’s going to be fun to watch. He’s played in huge games and is a two-time captain.

Having lost Dion Lewis to free agency, Michel is a better replacement for his production that the guys on the roster. But, as I pointed out, the Patriots have nickel-and-dimed the position for a decade and gotten good production so when they spend a quarter there it makes you raise an eyebrow. 

And 5 ...


1. Mike Florio did a very thorough job this morning paddling the media criers that kept bugling the Patriots great interest in Lamar Jackson.

“There’s so much bullcrap being peddled to reporters who are under so much pressure to fill the void between free agency and the draft with news that it’s really all just noise. Yes, we pass the noise along (we have to fill the void, too), but we do so by adding the caveat that, with so much smoke, it’s nearly impossible to find the fire...On Thursday night, the Patriots had two cracks at Jackson, and they didn’t take him. At pick 31, they opted for a running back — a running back! — over a five-year commitment from the potential successor to Tom Brady. Running backs are anywhere, everywhere. Quarterbacks that may revolutionize the game while also replacing one of the best players in NFL history are hard to find.” I liked the idea of Jackson. I gave credence to the idea that the Patriots might like to add the kind of player they have so much trouble stopping. But the idea that repeated meetings with Jackson were smoking-gun evidence they really loved him was dense. If you like the guy, you like him. You don’t keep going back to talk to him unless something’s bugging you about his potential.       

2. Which brings us to the amount of contact the Patriots had with Wynn and Michel. With Wynn, it was just the Combine. Everything else, obviously was researched by the Patriots scouts led by Monti Ossenfort. Same with Michel. Neither player spoke with the Patriots at the Georgia Pro Day. Neither was in Foxboro for a visit. So it’s all legwork. And with both players, it didn’t seem like character was an issue. Michel was a two-time captain. Wynn was about the happiest, friendliest sumbitch you’ve ever heard on his conference call. Meanwhile, the team gets references from former teammates like center David Andrews and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell who both played with Wynn and Michel at Georgia. Not to mention scouting reports from SEC friendlies like Nick Saban.

3. The Patriots reportedly coveted Arkansas center Frank Ragnow who was scooped up by Detroit at No. 20, making him the first pick of the Matt Patricia regime. Meanwhile, Tennessee leaped ahead of the Patriots to grab linebacker Rashaan Evans from Alabama who would have been a neat fit in New England. Two things. First, if the Patriots did chase Ragnow...why? They have a capable center in team captain David Andrews, who is signed through 2020. I get this idea of not drafting for need and taking the best player on the board and all but Wynn – even with his height concerns – at least projects as a two-position guy at positions of need. Second, the Belichick-Caserio spawn populating front offices and sidelines is a growing obstacle for the team as they chase players with similar skills.

4. I love football. I appreciate the men who can play it at the level they do because I’ve been entertained by it for 42 years and have made a living off of it for more than 20. Players – especially this generation of players – understand the long-term risks and the potential for sudden catastrophic injury. All that said, watching Ryan Shazier make his way across the stage in Dallas last night, I had two thoughts. The first was, “Look at what this game can do to you.” The second was that Shazier’s presence was as much a cautionary tale for the young men being ushered into the league as it was a celebration of his rehabilitation progress. The head-lowering rule the NFL swept into reality last month used the Shazier tackle as an example of what not to do on the football field because of the danger it poses to the practitioner as much as to the recipient. I’m of course happy Shazier’s progressing as he is. His presence was both triumphant and wrenching. We were looking at a person who – months ago – was in the highest percentile of physical ability of anyone on the planet needing assistance to walk across a stage. This is a helluva dangerous sport and these young men do indeed sign up for it (with an immense amount of societal pressure). That’s all I have on that.

5. Quarterback. Safety. And a friggin linebacker today. Stop with the "I don't know what drafting for 'need' means..."

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