The New England Patriots are right back where they started. And that's a good thing.
Dave DeGuglielmo is out after two years as the offensive line coach, and according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, the Patriots have been in contact with former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia about making a return. Scarnecchia, the Patriots' offensive line coach from 1999 to 2013, retired prior to the 2014 season and was replaced by DeGuglielmo.
The results have not been good. The most inconsistent position group over the past two seasons has been the offensive line.
In the first four weeks of the 2014 season, the offensive line allowed Tom Brady to be pressured 35.4 percent of the time he dropped back to throw, the 10th-highest percentage in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The line played better in pass protection down the stretch, but it never established much of a running game that year and ranked in the bottom half of the league across the board.
In 2015, it was more of the same—except worse. The Patriots were circumventing their porous offensive line from the beginning, with a quick pass attack designed to neutralize any threat of pressure on Brady. When Julian Edelman went down with an injury, that plan was scrapped, and Brady was pressured on 41.6 percent of his dropbacks from Weeks 11 to 17, the fourth-highest percentage in the league.
|Patriots offensive line|
|Rush yards per game||129.1||107.9||87.8|
|Rush yards per att.||4.4||3.9||3.7|
|Sources: ProFootballFocus.com; Pro-Football-Reference.com|
The running game, which had been middle-of-the-road in 2014, took a step back and was one of the five worst rushing attacks in the league in yards per game (87.8) and yards per carry (3.7).
Patriots fans weren't the only ones itching for Scarnecchia to come back. In fact, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Scarnecchia reached out to the Patriots to initiate communication about coming out of retirement.
But let's not blame the offensive line's poor play entirely on DeGuglielmo. One of the issues has been the health of that group, with injuries bringing the Patriots to their knees—particularly at tackle, where they were down to third-stringers and interior linemen starting on the outside.
But the biggest issue for the Patriots going forward is the development of their young linemen already on the roster. Guards Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason (who were scouted by Scarnecchia as a consultant prior to the 2015 draft) were up-and-down as rookies, but both showed signs of potential. Scarnecchia's return as offensive line coach is their best bet to hit their ceiling, however high it may be.
Centers Bryan Stork and David Andrews both played well in 2015. If there's a way to get them both involved in the starting lineup, Scarnecchia's going to be the one to find out and coach the players into those roles.
Fred Smerlas @FredSmerlas
#ThoughtsOverAmCoffee: Bad news for the rest of the league; Dante Scarnecchia is back #OneOfTheBestOLineCoachesInHistory2016-2-9 13:34:51
Over the years, Scarnecchia has developed a reputation for taking raw linemen and molding them into starters. That's because he pushes players to their limits.
Former Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody discussed Scarnecchia's approach, per Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald:
I can just tell you when he coached me, his attention to detail was relentless. He just wouldn't let up. He was very demanding on doing things the right way. When I first got in the league, I wondered if he was ever going to get off my back. But there was always a method to the madness, and that laid the foundation to my 12-year career. He really demanded for me to do things a certain way. But he was also able to identify guys who fit the team's philosophy, and then coached their butts off. I mean, there's just not many better than him.
It's unfortunate that the team had to do its best Cinderella impersonation—"Don't Know What You've Got (Till It's Gone)"—but at least now, Scarnecchia's back and can bring his old-school mentality with him.
Of course, there's some reasonable concern over Scarnecchia's age. At 68 years old, he's no spring chicken, but he's also far from a decrepit old man. He spends most of practice running up and down the sideline alongside the linemen he's coaching. That being said, the Patriots would be wise to consider grooming the next offensive line coach behind Scarnecchia next year and until he retires (again).
There's also the simple fact that, while Scarnecchia is renowned as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league, he's only as good as the product he's working with. There are still some areas where the Patriots lack depth, mainly at tackle.
But with Scarnecchia returning to the fold, Bill Belichick can be confident that no matter who is on the offensive line, the Patriots will be getting the most out of those players.
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com.