FOXBORO, Mass. — Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is always significantly more forthright with the media than most of New England’s assistants. At 71 years old with 34 years of experience coaching for the Patriots, Scarneccha predates Bill Belichick in New England. He’s also the best offensive line coach in the NFL. So, he’s got more leeway than, say, a 26-year-old first-year position coach.
Scarnecchia met with Patriots reporters Friday morning, giving more clarity on the state of the Patriots’ battered offensive line.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn is on injured reserve with a toe injury and could return after midseason. Center David Andrews is out for the year with a blood clot in his lungs. Right tackle Marcus Cannon is week-to-week with a shoulder injury.
Scarnecchia clarified Marshall Newhouse will play left tackle with Wynn out, Joe Thuney will stay at left guard, Ted Karras will continue to play center, Shaq Mason will remain at right guard and Korey Cunningham will man right tackle until Cannon returns.
Thuney played left tackle in training camp, but Scarnecchia would prefer not to shift him from left guard in-season.
“We would rather not have to move Joe here or move Joe there,” Scarnecchia said. “We’d like to keep four of the five components that we started with in place. Now three of the five components, but that’s all right too. Because we think Ted’s done a nice job for us and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue to happen.”
Scarnecchia spoke glowingly but realistically about Karras’ performance. He shooed away any concerns over Karras’ snapping from Week 1, pointing out there were no such issues Sunday.
“Every year he’s been here he has started somewhere on the line either at either guard or center,” Scarnecchia said. “And Ted’s always done what we expect him to do. He knows the system. He’s been raised in the system and I think that he always prepares himself to play. So, we could not be any more fortunate than to have a guy like that who can play all three of those positions and the wheels don’t come off the offense.
“So, we’re pleased with Ted. Ted’s another guy just like a lot of guys we’ve had around here that he’s a good worker. He’s a tough guy. He’s got character and yeah, maybe he doesn’t have quite the skill of some guys, but you’re going to get everything this guy has and that’s all we care about. We’ll be all right.”
Scarnecchia is similarly high on Newhouse. The Patriots’ new left tackle had two holding penalties against the Dolphins on Sunday, but Scarnecchia said that was due in part to exhaustion from the heat in Miami. Newhouse was cut Aug. 31, was out of football for 11 days then signed with the Patriots last Wednesday.
“This guy is a smart guy. This guy is so smart,” Scarnecchia said. “I really have been very impressed by him not only his intelligence and his football IQ but his study and work ethic to learn our offense has been exemplary and if he doesn’t know, he’ll ask. We really feel very fortunate to have him around here and we’re going.”
Newhouse started Sunday’s game at right tackle but moved to quarterback Tom Brady’s blindside after Wynn went down. Cunningham then entered the game at right tackle. Cunningham started six games at left tackle last season with the Arizona Cardinals but played right tackle this preseason. The Patriots will keep him on the right side for now.
“(Cunningham) has the skill to play,” Scarnecchia said. “He’s got some things to learn, and he’s got some things to do better at. But he went out there and played 55 plays the other day, and he did fine.”
The Patriots’ top backup offensive linemen are James Ferentz, Jermaine Eluemunor and Caleb Benenoch. Ferentz is a center and guard. Eluemunor mostly has played guard but he started a game at left tackle last season for the Baltimore Ravens. Benenoch was signed this week and has been limited with a calf injury. Benenoch started 16 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at right guard last season, but the Patriots view him as an offensive tackle. If Benenoch isn’t ready to play Sunday and Cannon is still out, then Elumunor might have to be the Patriots’ top backup.
“I like him,” Scarnecchia said about Eluemunor. “We’re in the process of deciding who’s going to the game and where, and so he’s practiced all week, and he’s done very well. He’s lost some weight, got in better shape, he’s a smart kid. He’s a good kid. He’s a tough kid.”
Eluemunor played left guard in Week 1 after Cannon injured his shoulder. Thuney moved to right tackle in that situation.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images