Foxboro - Offensive linemen are the under-appreciated work horses of any team. If they perform well - no one talks about them and if they don't fans complain about why their favorite team cannot find quality offensive linemen. Sunday the offensive line shined again as the team finished with 275 yards rushing (excluding Brian Hoyer's two kneel downs). One of the unheralded players on the offensive line, who is the only player on the Pats offense to have played every offensive snap this season, is left guard Joe Thuney who was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft and has started every game since he was a rookie. Thuney also had the pleasure of winning a Super Bowl his rookie year when the Pats beat the Atlanta Falcons.
Thuney, 26, is playing the position that Logan Mankins used to play. Mankins might be the best offensive lineman in Pats history next to John Hannah so he has high expectations. Pats OL coach Dante Scarnecchia, who has coached the Pats for all but four years since 1982, often shows tapes of Mankins, but he never mentions Mankins by name. Scarnecchia wants Thuney to learn technique from Mankins but does not want Thuney comparing himself to the former Pro Bowl player.
"I very very (not a typo - he used very twice) rarely refer to players on a personal basis," Scarnecchia said Monday. "I show the players cut-ups of past players like Logan and they are not idiots they can see its Logan Mankins. Logan is one of the best players I have been around. I think that if you ever want to pattern your game after someone it would be Logan if you physically can. That is a big if. Joe has a unique skill set. He is a really athletic and a smart player."
Thuney, though, has become a good left guard whose endurance has impressed his offensive line coach.
"He has been able to keep his body weight. His playing strength hasn't diminished at all and he has played a lot of snaps. He is playing at a really good level right now and we are very pleased with him," Scarnecchia said.
Scarnecchia and Bill Belichick noted that Thuney has helped left tackle Trent Brown learn the Pats offense. It is not only Brown's first year with the Pats, but also his first year playing the left tackle spot. Brown had been a right tackle in San Francisco. The two positions are different because the left tackle often faces an opponent's best pass rusher and must be more nimble on his feet. A right tackle often needs power. Thuney and Brown play on the same side of the line and Thuney has taught Brown how to adjust to various defensive fronts.
"Joe has helped Trent with his knowledge of the offense and everything that is being said," Scarnecchia said. "Joe has been a good influence on Trent and I think Trent appreciates the help that Joe has provided."
Belichick praised the interior of the offensive line Monday with guards Thuney and Shaq Mason inside (who has played almost every snap except for the two games he missed) and C David Andrews (who has missed only 12 snaps this season). Belichick and Scarnecchia said the continuity inside has been important in the interior of the offensive line. Thuney has helped Brown with pass blocking.
"Joe's ability to work with Trent every day in terms of the passing game - seeing twists, some of our communication on third down and the difficult fronts that teams give us in passing situations - that's been huge for us. Joe's really smart, well-prepared and very dependable," Belichick said.
Belichick has been impressed with the improvement of Thuney since his rookie year.
"Because he played so much as a rookie, he didn't have as much off-field training as players who weren't playing as much. His rookie year he played a lot and was just trying to keep his head above water and be ready for the next game, play in it and start all over again the following week," Belichick said.
"That offseason and the following offseason where he missed some time, he has been able to gain strength. He has become a more physical player and improved his strength, power, explosion and flexibility and that's certainly helped him. I am not saying it was bad before, but it has certainly gotten better in the last couple of years," Belichick said.
Belichick said Thuney (who was raised in Spring Valley, Ohio) benefited from playing left tackle at N.C. State in college as it has allowed him to understand the assignments of other offensive linemen.
"I think his experience at left tackle in college and then moving into guard - having played both positions - he works well with whether it was Nate (Solder) in the past and Trent this year. With that left tackle position, he understands what that guy playing out there is going through and how to make it all work together," Belichick said.