Brady: Patriots offensive line been phenomenal this year
By Doug Kyed
Offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo has been an unsung hero for the 6-0 New England Patriots.
It’s been a tumultuous season for the Patriots’ offensive line, which lost starting left tackle and captain Nate Solder for the season with a torn biceps after Week 5. Starting center Bryan Stork was placed on short-term injured reserve with head and neck injuries before the season, and guard Ryan Wendell spent most of the summer on the PUP list with a shoulder ailment and then missed games to begin the season because of an illness.
New starting left tackle Marcus Cannon missed Sunday’s game with a toe injury, and left guard Shaq Mason was out with a knee injury, leaving the Patriots with just six offensive linemen against the Jets.
Still, they’ve held up through it all and have allowed 16 sacks while Tom Brady is second among starting quarterbacks with 327 passing yards per game and first with 16 touchdowns and just one interception.
“Our offensive line has been phenomenal this year,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Tuesday. “The challenge they’ve been up against, they’ve faced a lot of great defensive lines, a lot of different scheme challenges, they’ve had perimeter rushers, they’ve had interior rushers. We see a lot of games and twists. Everyone is obviously trying to get after the quarterback all of the time, but we’ve been faced with a lot of challenges. I think those guys have really stepped up to it. It’s a great group.”
DeGuglielmo took over for long-time Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia last season and immediately helped lead the team to a Super Bowl victory. That was without captain Logan Mankins, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before Week 1 of the 2014 season.
The Patriots had to scramble again to begin this season without Stork and Wendell. Undrafted rookie David Andrews has been impressive at center, with some wondering if Stork should immediately return to his starting role once he’s off injured reserve. Rookies Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson have rotated with veteran Josh Kline at guard, and they’ve held up so well, it appears Wendell lost his prospective starting job.
Cameron Fleming was signed off the Patriots’ practice squad after Solder was placed on injured reserve and immediately had to contribute in Week 6 when Cannon went down. Fleming started Week 7 at right tackle, bumping starter Sebastian Vollmer over to left tackle, where he impressed, allowing just one quarterback hit in pass protection to a dangerous Jets front seven.
“They’re really well coached,” Brady said. “Coach (DeGuglielmo) has done a great job, (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) has done a great job. Dave Andrews and Tre’ and Shaq, Josh Kline, Wendy’s provided incredible insight, being that he’s been so experienced in the system. Nate was playing great until he got injured. Marcus, everyone has a lot of confidence in Marcus. Sebastian’s done an incredible job going from right now to left, and Cam Fleming, coming off the practice squad, so whatever it takes for those guys, however they can get that unit together and play cohesively, play as a group, it’s a great group we have. Those guys take a lot of pride in it, and they’ve just done an incredible job so far.”
The Patriots are rushing for just 3.9 yards per carry, which ranks 23rd in the NFL, and their 83.7 yard per-game average is second worst. It doesn’t help, however, that starting running back Dion Lewis was out Sunday and limited in Week 7. The Patriots averaged just 1.8 yards per carry without Lewis, and Brady led the team with four carries for 15 yards.
The Patriots face another strong front seven Thursday, when the Miami Dolphins come to Gillette Stadium, led by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and pass rushers Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon. As long as Brady can continue to release the ball quickly, the Patriots’ patchwork offensive line should be able to hold the Dolphins’ defensive line at bay.
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