FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' offensive line is undergoing a philosophical shift of sorts in 2016 under returning coach Dante Scarnecchia, who said Wednesday he hopes to limit a rotation of personnel as much as possible.
Last season, in part because of injury but also as a result of experimentation, the Patriots used a league-high 39 offensive line combinations.
The goal this year is to build more continuity.
"I think that’s huge. I really do. They had so many guys playing multiple positions [last year], and we believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can," Scarnecchia said Wednesday, one day before the team's first training camp practice. "You can’t always do that, [but] I think that was a huge deal last year and hopefully we won’t get into that situation this year. Keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they will improve."
Scarnecchia returned to the Patriots in 2016 after two years of retirement. His fellow assistant coaches have noted how he has a calming effect on the staff, and part of the reason is his ability to simplify things.
That was reflected Wednesday in Scarnecchia explaining his coaching approach: "We ain’t building rockets. ... That’s the approach we’re going to take. We’re really going to try to be precise in what we do, the way we do it, and try to play as hard as we can. If we get them to do that, we have a chance."
As for the Patriots' personnel along the offensive line, the tackle spots appear to be mostly set with Nate Solder (left) and Sebastian Vollmer (right) as the starters, and Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle as the top backups.
The competition on the interior seems to be more wide open, with rookie Joe Thuney (left guard) and Jonathan Cooper (right guard) getting the most top reps in the spring, and Bryan Stork and David Andrews flip-flopping with the first unit at center.
Asked what he looks for at guard, Scarnecchia said consistency, physicality, toughness and the ability to play "mistake-free football" are critical.
"Those are the things we covet, the traits we value so much, and those are the guys that will be up there," he said.
With so many players in the mix, Scarnecchia doesn't seem concerned about developing continuity.
"I don’t think it is hard to develop that. We’re going to try to keep the guys -- whoever is the first five, we’re going to try to keep those guys together as much as we can," he said.
"It’s not always practical to do that, and there is competition at multiple positions, so there may be some in and out that way. The thing is -- if we can keep the left tackle playing the left tackle playing left tackle, the right tackle [playing right tackle] ... and try to keep the guards on the same side as much as we can, I think that will really help everybody. Now there has to be some guys who swing around in there, because we only end up with eight or nine linemen [on the roster], but I think it will be fine. I really do."