Offensive guard Geoff Schwartz has not played for the New England Patriots. He is entering his 9th season in the league and is with his 5th team, currently the Detroit Lions. He was the guest writer for this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback.
He also just shed some light on why the Patriots offensive line fell apart in 2014 and 2015 after the retirement of longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
(Ed. Note: I’ve added paragraph splits for ease of reading)
“I’ve played for six offensive line coaches in the NFL,” Schwartz writes. “You might think OL play is simple enough to where the coaches are basically teaching the same things. Nope. Only two of my OL coaches taught the same technique. Ironically, these also have been my favorite OL systems.
“Everything linemen do in a system is for a purpose and has a reason. I can get down with that. So I’ve had to adapt to various ways to pass block.
“Some OL coaches teach strong inside hand, some want vertical sets, some want a jump set at 45 degrees. I’ve been taught two-hand punch, independent hand usage and outside hand punch. I’ve been taught three different ways to stop a bull rush and different aiming points on zone plays.
“How difficult could it be to pull right? Well if you’re pulling on power, some schemes take the guard inside (but always outside of the double team) and ask him to “swab out” anything in the hole. Other schemes, if the guard sees it’s congested inside, then he adjusts and pulls around the blocks.
“It’s all madness. So you have to adapt and obey. You find out what the OL coach demands. You follow that.”
In three years, we’ve seen the Patriots offensive line deteriorate from “pretty good” to “ghastly” and I’m convinced the switch from Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo is a crucial reason for the decline.
This isn’t to heap the entire blame on Guge. Head coach Bill Belichick left the cupboard bare on the interior offensive line, getting by with Logan Mankins at left guard and a rotation of undrafted players or free agents at center and right guard, such as Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell, Donald Thomas, Brian Waters, and Nick McDonald. When Connolly retired, Wendell was sick, and Mankins was traded, the Patriots had little left to work with on the interior.
Belichick has changed gears in recent years, adding quality interior linemen like 4th round picks Bryan Stork, Tre Jackson, and Shaq Mason, and rookie 3rd round pick Joe Thuney- but the lack of development of the young players was a clear reason to move away from Guge and to ask Scarnecchia to return.
When Schwartz talks about how every offensive line coach is different, the same applies to Scar and Guge. Scar was a polished, demanding coach that brought the best out of franchise tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, and turned the undrafted interior linemen into wine.
Solder and Vollmer suffered through the worst campaigns of their careers over the past two seasons and the more-talented interior linemen were worse than their undrafted counterparts in the years prior under Scar.
We’ve covered the differences in Scar and Guge. Scar is a great teacher that puts a greater focus on technique. Guge is more brash and his history in a power-running offense meant he wanted his linemen to get their hands on defenders as soon as possible to control the line of scrimmage- and the result was poor technique and poor line play.
The linemen are already focusing on their technique and that will translate to the field. Guge might have had more success with a different team, but his coaching style was too drastically different from Scar’s to allow for a seamless transition.
Belichick and the Patriots now have an increasingly important task on their plate. Scar will be around to help the line, but for how much longer? If the franchise wants to avoid another decline in line play, they should hire an assistant to be Scar’s shadow and to absorb as much knowledge as they possibly can over the next couple of seasons.
Scar is a band-aid that will help fix some of the serious problems from the last few years. It’s supposed to be the Belichick way to find Scar’s replacement before it’s too late.