FOXBOROUGH — There’s a theory in football that a team with two quarterbacks who get game snaps really doesn’t have one. Does the same apply to the offensive line? If a lineman has played all five positions, does he really have one?
That’s what Joe Thuney is trying to find out. His participation report at North Carolina State speaks to the versatility he brings to the Patriots as a third-round pick (No. 78 overall) in this year’s draft.
With the Wolfpack, Thuney played in eight games as a redshirt freshman, all at center.
As a sophomore, he started the opener at right tackle, the second game at right guard, then the last 10 at left tackle.
During his junior season, every game he played was at left guard.
All 13 starts as a senior came at left tackle, where he did not allow a sack in conference play.
Four years, five positions. Versatile, dependable, productive.
Thuney sounds like a Patriot, no?
“Wherever Coach wants me to play,” Thuney said of his position preference after being drafted. “I have experience at all five, so wherever he sees me best, I think that’s the best fit for me.”
A few signs point to that being on the interior. Thuney’s size (6 feet 5 inches, 295 pounds) likely isn’t enough for him to play tackle in the NFL, and the Patriots have a pair of massive bookend tackles in Nate Solder (6-8, 325) and Sebastian Vollmer (6-8, 325).
But as we saw last season, when Solder, Vollmer, and other members of the line missed time with injury, plans can change, and it’s nice to have the option of using someone who’s accustomed to playing all over the place.
Dante Scarnecchia, who has returned as offensive line coach after two years in retirement, worked out Thuney before the draft and likes what he sees.
“I think he’s really a tremendous athlete,” said Scarnecchia. “I think he’s a really smart kid, he’s got a really good playing style, he’s a good person. He’s got good size, really good measurables, and we feel like he’s got traits that we covet.
“He’s going to be an inside player, unless disaster hits, and then he’ll be an outside player. We’ve done it with others.”
Even though he played exclusively at left tackle last season, Thuney agreed with Scarnecchia that he’s best suited inside. But he has the knowledge and, perhaps more important, the experience of playing tackle, and would gladly serve in the outside role if asked.
“On the interior, I feel more comfortable,” Thuney said. “I don’t have the typical length of a typical NFL tackle, but I feel like I move and pull and have the leverage on the interior.”
Some players, even at a young age, seem destined for the NFL. Thuney wasn’t one of them.
Even though he started all 44 games as a three-year varsity player at Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio — helping his team win back-to-back state championships, then advancing to the semifinals as a senior — Thuney was a two-way player whose commitment level, more than his skill level, stood out.
“He was never satisfied with where he was,” said Ed Domsitz, who remains the head coach at Alter. “He wanted to take that next step, and he worked to make that happen.
“This is a case where he could have stayed at the same level, performed at the same level the four or five years he was at North Carolina State, and been satisfied with his collegiate career, let it go at that. But he really worked himself into that spot where not only would he be recognized at the college level, but be drafted by the NFL.”
Offensive linemen are typically some of the smartest men in football. Thuney may follow suit; he graduated from North Carolina State in 2014, before his junior season, earning an undergraduate degree in accounting. He hasn’t coasted academically since then, either.
“For the past year and a half, I’ve been working towards another degree in international studies and a minor in Spanish,” Thuney said. “I just wanted to expand my studies and explore everything that college had to offer.”
After signing a four-year contract last week for $3.538 million, which came with a $773,428 signing bonus, Thuney can put that accounting degree to good use, because he’ll find himself in a different tax bracket. And while he attempts to become fluent in Spanish, he already speaks the language of the offensive line, no matter where he lines up.
“Football is an intense game and you never know when you have to switch, from right guard to left guard, or center to guard, or guard to center,” Thuney said. “I think it’s an advantage to have experience at all five positions.”