FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots have a new face coaching the offensive linemen, but it’s someone they’ve seen before. He’s also seen plenty of them, mostly from the opposing sideline.
Dante Scarnecchia retired after last season, his 30th with the team, and was immediately replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo. A Lexington native, DeGuglielmo coached at Boston College, Boston University (his alma mater), Connecticut, and South Carolina before jumping to the NFL. He then spent time with the Giants (2004-08), Dolphins (2009-11), and Jets (2012). He faced the Patriots with all three teams.
DeGuglielmo doesn’t need to be told that he has big shoes to fill.
“I know Dante. I’ve known him for a number of years. I studied his work before I got into the league, had a chance to meet with him back then, and I’ve kind of interacted with him a little bit in my time in the league,” DeGuglielmo said on Thursday, after the Patriots’ first training camp practice. “Following him? You know, I have a job to do, and I’m trying to do the best I can every day. I think the system is in place, so it’s not like we’re reinventing anything here.
“I’m trying to teach the system. I might use different coaching phrases, but it’s the same stuff. Same technique, generally the same offense. I’m not changing anything, that’s for sure.”
Change on the offensive line will mostly be limited to the coach, because the Patriots return all five starters. Introductions and first impressions already have been made, but there’s still a newness to things.
“If you took any job, you’d have to get to know your co-workers. I think in the NFL, I don’t work for them, and they don’t work for me. We work together,” DeGuglielmo said. “Any time you work with new people, there’s the way you move, the way you talk, the way you conduct a meeting, the way they sit, the way they ask questions, the way they communicate with one another. We’re all figuring that out and it’s going very smooth. I’m blessed to have a group that’s so intelligent. I think that’s something that the organization really looks at when they bring guys into the program. They need to be smart. If they can’t learn, they can’t play.”
From afar, DeGuglielmo had a clear sense of how the Patriots like to work.
“Having been in the division, I’m familiar with how this program operates, and I was just hoping that I could be a part of it. When you’re on the other sideline, and you watch it for so many years from that end, having just a little bit of success and a lot of failure, it’s nice to think that, hey, I might have an opportunity to not only go home, but also to work for such a great organization and a great head coach,” DeGuglielmo said.
For those fans on hand for the first practice of training camp, it wasn’t much different than the allotted organized team activity days the Patriots went through in the spring: No contact, no pads, lots of passing and special teams work.
Players will be able to hit each other starting Saturday, when the team will conduct its first full-pads, full-contact practice. Until then, is there much difference between these practices and OTAs?
“Not a lot, when you’re talking about substance. You just know that we’re preparing for a couple of days from now, when we’re actually going to be able to add the physical element to the game,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “We’re in training camp, so in terms of time allotment, we can meet with them a little bit more. We have a morning meeting, we’ve got an afternoon meeting, we’ve got a night meeting, so there’s a lot more in terms of what we can do in the classroom these first few days.
“On the field, it’s very similar to an OTA day, but everybody knows we’re kind of getting ourselves ready to go for Saturday.”
McDaniels, who was forced to game plan the majority of last season without tight end Rob Gronkowski, was asked about practicing selectively with him. Gronkowski was on the field for Thursday’s workout, but did not participate in 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills.
“Having every player out here is great, and Rob is a part of our process that we’re going through. When he’s out here in certain periods, he’s getting a lot out of them,” McDaniels said.
“If and when we don’t have certain guys, that’s just like the season. We’re never in a game where everything goes perfect and you get to use every single player that you wanted to use in every single situation.”
Rolling with changes
The Patriots will send out a wave of new faces on defense, and that’s fine with coordinator Matt Patricia, but don’t forget about those who have been here for some time.
“We have new faces everywhere. Whatever the personnel is or isn’t, we attack every year the same. [I’m] just excited for all the guys I’ve got, whether it’s the back end, the linebacker position, or the front guys,” Patricia said. “Obviously for us, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, we’ve got a bunch of great guys that have been around here for a long time and really do a great job of setting the example for the way we want to get things done.
“We were together for quite a bit of time through the spring and now in training camp. When you’re in meetings all day long, you’re out on the football field working really hard, there’s a common bond that occurs.
“Personnel for us changes every year. For us, we’re just focused on today, see if what we did in the classroom can transfer to the field, see how it worked against our offense, then try to improve on it.”
He has bounced between coaching linebackers and defensive linemen with the Patriots (it’s back to linebackers this season), but no matter the positional group he’s in charge of, Patrick Graham is ready to get training camp started. “It was exciting when I was in Pop Warner. It’s football season now. It seems like the grass starts to smell differently, you know? I’m excited for the season to start, it has started, and to see if we can get better every day. That’s my goal as a coach,” Graham said. “You can’t look too far ahead, you can’t look in the past, we’ve just got to get better every day. If you can’t get excited about that, whatever profession you’re in, I think you have a problem.” . . . There were no first-day surprises with the roster. “Everybody that’s under contract is here,” coach Bill Belichick said . . . Team owner Robert Kraft reached the field about an hour into the two-hour workout . . . He might be a second-round draft pick, but he’s still a rookie, and Jimmy Garoppolo was spotted carrying multiple helmets and shoulder pads off the field after practice, presumably those of fellow quarterbacks Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett . . . Defensive tackle Sealver Siliga has changed jersey numbers since last season, going from No. 71 to No. 96.