One well-respected former member of the Patriots thinks the team’s offseason additions can turn things around after a disappointing 2020.
Former New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia praised his old organization’s free-agent acquisitions and offensive makeup on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Sunday Football Show.
The longtime assistant coached for the Patriots for 34 years, retiring after the 2019 season that ended with a wild-card loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Scarnecchia gave high marks to the Patriots’ offensive line depth following the re-signing of starting center David Andrews and the return of former backup and one-time starting center Ted Karras. The longtime coach especially spoke highly of the team’s reacquisition of “dynamic” tackle Trent Brown from the Las Vegas Raiders.
“The guy’s really, really a good football player,” Scarnecchia said, touting Brown’s ability to play either left or right tackle. “Gotta stay healthy, gotta stay out there. But his abilities both in the run game and pass protection are really, really exceptional.”
Brown, who played under Scarnecchia’s tutelage in 2018, openly celebrated his return to the Patriots after a few down years with the Raiders.
The old coach credits the team’s famed culture for Brown’s successful experience in New England more than his own instruction.
Scarnecchia said he had to chide Brown early on in the tackle’s time with the Patriots for “taking the easy way out” on drills and not always giving his best effort in practice.
“‘I wish I could tell you it was said that calmly or that nicely because it wasn’t,” Scarnecchia recalls. “But he got the message. And to his credit, once he started practicing like everyone else, once he started understanding what it was going to be like … he became one of those guys who was a very, very reliable guy, a guy we could trust and his teammates could trust. That says a lot more for him than it does for anyone else.”
Scarnecchia also says he believes the offense can succeed with its run-heavy philosophy from last season with quarterback Cam Newton under center, but cautioned that the passing game still has to do its part.
“You have to be able to make plays in the passing game when you need to make them. I think that’s the biggest thing going forward,” he said. “They’ve gotten some good receivers at tight end and outside that they’ve signed in free agency. Whether that enhances the passing game and sets up things off the run actions and play-action that [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] loves to run…if you can make enough plays to win games when they count the most, what’s wrong with that? I think it can be done.”
When asked about new tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith — both of whom are known primarily for their pass-catching abilities — Scarnecchia also talked about the multiple ways in which the Patriots can use their two tight ends, especially in their “12” personnel groupings (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers).
Henry and Smith’s ability to run-block paired with their skill as pass-catchers, Scarnecchia says, could cause major matchup problems for opposing defenses.
“The defensive coordinator’s looking over there and saying … ‘Are we just going to leave our normal defense out there? Because if we do, we may not be able to cover a tight end that all of a sudden removes himself around the formation and a linebacker’s got him or a strong safety has him.’
“We did that with Rob [Gronkowski] and [Aaron] Hernandez years ago,” he explained. “That was a nightmare matchup for any defense because they had a hard time covering Hernandez with a defensive back or the safety or a linebacker. They couldn’t do it. And forget about Rob…to have tight ends with the ability those two guys seemingly have, it sounds like they have, I think it becomes a whole new dimension the Patriots haven’t had for a while.”