If you can remember back to the start of the 2014 season, you'll remember the panic that spread throughout Patriots Nation. Offensive line coach and absolute legend Dante Scarnecchia had retired. In his place was a man named "Gug" (pronounced: Googe).
The 2014 season started off as a disaster. Marcus Cannon and Jordan Devey were atrocious at guard. Nate Solder had fallen off the map. Sebastian Vollmer was returning from an injury. Dan Connolly was seemingly playing all three interior positions.
If Scar was here, it would all be better, was a common sentiment over the first four weeks of the season. But then Bryan Stork was healthy. And then Ryan Wendell entered the line-up. And then Gug began to work his magic as the Patriots paved their way to a Super Bowl championship.
Gug still has a long way to go before he gets mentioned in the same breath as Scarnecchia, but he's showing that he has some magic up his sleeves.
The Patriots lost starting left tackle Nate Solder for the season. They lost his back-up Marcus Cannon to a toe injury. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is playing left tackle. Practice squad player Cameron Fleming is playing right tackle. There's no back-up at this point in time.
The interior line consists of 4th round rookie Shaq Mason, who had never pass protected in his life, 4th round rookie Tre Jackson, and undrafted rookie David Andrews. There was also undrafted veteran Josh Kline. The three 2014 starters were gone: left guard Dan Connolly retired, center Bryan Stork hurt, right guard Ryan Wendell sick.
This is an absolute and utter disaster. And yet Gug is somehow still stirring the pot in the kitchen, turning out gravy for the offense, with no excuses to be heard.
"The guys have worked very hard with each other and individually on their own fundamentals and techniques to be prepared and execute all the different plays and assignments and block all the different types of players that we face," head coach Bill Belichick said. "It's a hard working group. It's a group that takes a lot of pride in what they do. They spend a lot of time together, they care and support each other, and it's great to see them having positive results from all their hard work."
Gug is the gravity that holds the unit together and his leadership helps keep the unit focused when there's a different line-up seemingly every other down. And yet the injuries haven't gotten to the offense's mentality.
"Well, I think that's pro football," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said about the list of injuries to the line. "It happens to a lot of guys each year. That's why we preach versatility and trying to know as much as they can know about the whole scheme in general or the entire offense or whatever they're position group might be because we know at some point we're not going to have enough backups to just keep putting another guy in."
The injuries are expected and Gug is expected to prepare his players to step in and succeed whenever needed.
"Gug has done a great job of getting those guys prepared to go," McDaniels said.
There are growing pains, as the line reveals its weaknesses and flaws, but the mentality of being prepared and able to thrive comes from the top.
"it's not seamless, that's for sure," McDaniels said of the offensive line adjustments. "There's a lot of time and effort that's put into whatever it is that we do... But look, I think your attitude going into every situation is really an important thing. We always have a positive frame of mind, a positive outlook on things. We accept and embrace the responsibility that we have to get ready and play.
"We have no excuses, never, no matter what adversity or what may be staring anybody in the face. Every team deals with injuries. Every team deals with players that may have to switch positions, and we're no different. We just want to work hard and get ready to play each week and try to do the best that we can on Sunday."
As the Patriots move forward, they're hoping to have players like Cannon, Mason, Stork, and Jackson return to the field. New England has taken a conservative approach with injuries this season as they've rested players an extra amount of time. Until those players are ready to go, Gug will be working with the players to make sure they play to the best of their ability.
"There's getting the job done and then there's making it look pretty," Gug said at the end of September. "I think we're more interested in getting the job done at this point. "
Maybe the line will look pretty towards the end of the year, but for now Gug continues to earn the trust of the team, of the players, and of Patriots fans everywhere.