FOXBORO — In Dante Scarnecchia we trust. It's remarkable what the Patriots offensive line coach has been able to do over the years, making his line virtually impenetrable.
Scar is the GOAT when it comes to O-line coaches, and it's a good thing he's such a wizard. Keeping Tom Brady out of harm's way is that important. It's been critical to the Patriots success during the past two decades. No matter the injury, no matter what loss or curveball thrown, Scarnecchia somehow makes it work to keep Brady safe.
The latest chapter, of course, down two starting tackles and his starting center, will once again test Scarnecchia, and his ability to protect Brady with a makeshift line.
Left tackle Isaiah Wynn, placed on injured reserve Tuesday with turf toe, can't return until Week 11. Right tackle Marcus Cannon, who missed last week's game with a shoulder injury, could return this week, and that's the hope, but there are no guarantees.
Against the Dolphins, Scarnecchia plugged in a pair of tackles who had been with the team less than a month, and one less than a week. They got the job done in Miami, but can the unit be as effective in the long term with subs now in at least two of the five starting positions?
Is this task even too tall for the great Scarnecchia?
Because weighing in the balance, as always, is Brady and his ability to function in the pocket, and his ability to function period.
As we've seen already in the NFL, quarterbacks are being lost at an alarming rate. Some have been the result of less than stellar lines, others are simply a matter of bad luck.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees suffered ligament damage to his right throwing thumb on the follow through of a throw after hitting the outstretched hand of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't hit, but needs season-ending elbow surgery. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has mononucleosis. His backup, Trevor Siemian, is done for the season with ligament damage in his ankle after a vicious hit by Myles Garrett Monday night. Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles has a broken clavicle. Carolina's Cam Newton is still bothered by a foot injury from a sack in a preseason game iagainst the Pats. The list keeps growing.
If the Patriots want championship No. 7, and they look like they're headed in that direction, Brady can't be added to the list. The 42-year-old has been an incredible ironman as it is, the only injury that's kept him out being the torn ACL he suffered in Week 1 of 2008. His durability has been remarkable. He's avoided the fluke-type injuries that just derailed Brees. He's also been fairly well-protected over the years.
He's weathered his share of shots, but by and large, between his quick release, and Scarnecchia plugging the holes and coaching up the fill-ins, Brady has stayed in one piece.
He showed up on the practice report Wednesday with a calf injury but is expected to be fine. After being limited Wednesday, he should be a full participant in practice Thursday.
There's no doubt Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will be looking for any weak links in the line, and go after Brady any chance he gets. The Jets only have four sacks thus far, and their best penetration typically comes up the middle from Harry Anderson and Leonard Williams. But Williams love to blitz and apply pressure.
What will be the solution for Wynn being out long term? In the short term, they moved Marshall Newhouse over from right tackle last week against the Dolphins. He was subbing for Cannon. With the possibility of Cannon returning, they could stick with Newhouse, or Korey Cunningham. Both Newhouse and Cunningham have been serviceable, but not great. They've allowed pressures on Brady.
Given the hole needs to be filled for the next eight weeks, it's possible they'll move Joe Thuney over from left guard. He got some work there early in training camp, but especially during the early camps. He's really the best option. Then they could figure out left guard from another group (James Ferentz, Jermaine Eluemunor, Caleb Benenoch).
Maybe Thuney will be better served on the interior against the Jets. Maybe they'll go team-to-team. It'll be interesting to see how Scarnecchia solves the riddle.
On Wednesday, Thuney said he would move to left tackle if that's what Scarnecchia wanted.
* Whatever the team needs. I'm available,” he said. * (I'll do) whatever is asked.”
Thuney, however, did his best not to give away any trade secrets. Asked if he took any snaps at left tackle in practice, he dodged the question.
* I was just focused on my job and doing whatever I can to help the team,” was Thuney's response.
It would be logical that he would take some snaps at tackle regardless. He might have to move to one of the tackle spots in an emergency. That's what happened against the Steelers when Cannon went down late in that game.
* As an offensive lineman, you never want to let the quarterback get hit,” Thuney said. * Just try, each play, to execute with great technique, and finish all the way through the whistle.”
With a makeshift offensive line, that will be the job going forward.