ATLANTA – Everything the Vikings want in their next offensive line coach sounds like everything Bill Belichick says he loves about the Patriots’ indefatigable, soon-to-be-71-year-old Dante Scarnecchia.
A Patriots assistant for all but four of the past 37 years, including 19 of the past 21 as offensive line coach, Scarnecchia has nurtured the NFL’s most cohesive offensive line without a draft pick higher than the third round. He’s helped spot them, raise their individual fundamentals to NFL standards and, well, let’s let the five-time Super Bowl champion head coach explain the rest.
“Dante’s greatest strength is his ability to get the entire line — and that sometimes includes tight ends, fullbacks, running backs and even quarterbacks — to think together, to see things consistently in the same manner so we can all operate as a team,” Belichick said Tuesday at the Atlanta Hyatt Regency, five days before the Patriots play the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
“The individual fundamentals are very important. I don’t want to minimize those. But ultimately having everybody doing the right thing consistently together as a unit is what really drives the train. If the offensive line doesn’t operate together and function as an entire unit but rather as five independent contractors, I don’t think they’re going to have much success.”
That’s what the Vikings are looking for as they finalize their offensive staff with the expected hiring of longtime Gary Kubiak assistant Rick Dennison. Of course, living up to a legend such as Scarnecchia or filling the shoes of the late Tony Sparano won’t be easy.
Yes, it helps that Tom Brady is a 19-year veteran with a ninth Super Bowl appearance coming up. Yes, it helps that his 2.18-second release time leads all postseason quarterbacks by more than a tenth of a second, according to Pro Football Focus.
But Scarnecchia’s squad up front is in such a postseason zone that Brady hasn’t been sacked and has been touched only once. Since their Week 11 bye, the Patriots have given up five sacks in eight games.
“He’s the best offensive line coach of all time,” Brady said.
And the Patriots will have “Scar” at least one more season. He announced this week he’s coming back.
“That’s obviously great news,” left guard Joe Thuney said.
Joe should know. He’s the first NFL player to begin his career with three consecutive trips to the Super Bowl.
And it’s no coincidence the Patriots’ offensive line has been a strength in each of those three seasons. Scarnecchia ended a two-year retirement three years ago.
Thuney, a third-round pick in 2016, is the highest-drafted of the Patriots’ starting linemen. Right guard Shaq Mason was a fourth-rounder in 2015, right tackle Marcus Cannon was a fifth-rounder in 2011, left tackle Trent Brown was a seventh-rounder of the 49ers in 2015, and center David Andrews was a rookie free agent in 2015.
It was Scarnecchia, then still retired, who took a look at Andrews as a favor to Belichick before the 2015 draft.
“I really liked the kid,” Scarnecchia said. “Then Bill went and worked him out.”
Belichick was the only NFL head coach who took the time to work Andrews out. Today, Andrews has started 57 out of a possible 64 regular-season games and New England’s past eight playoff games.
“Coach Belichick came back with the same impression of David that I had,” Scarnecchia said. “So it worked out.”
Ditto last spring when Nate Solder, Brady’s longtime blindside protector, came to the end of his contract. Belichick let the Giants sign him for $62 million over four years with $34.8 million guaranteed.
Not batting an eye, the Patriots’ personnel staff came up with potential replacements. Brown stood out. Scarnecchia looked at him, liked him and thought he could transition from right to left tackle. So on Day 2 of the draft, Belichick traded a third-round pick for the 6-8, 380-pound Brown and a fifth-round pick.
Brown made only $1.9 million this season. And he’s been dominant in the postseason.
Teams such as the Vikings are desperate to cultivate this ability to consistently build and replenish an offensive line. Scarnecchia was asked how the Patriots are able to find the linemen they need by looking down so many different paths.
“That’s because they’re available in all sorts of areas,” he said. “We covet three things, and I really believe this. You got to be smart. You got to be tough. And you got to be athletic enough. All our guys have all three of those traits.”
They’re also coached by perhaps the best in the business.