New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will rarely outright hand a player the starting job. There was a mild degree of surprise earlier this offseason when he said that Tom Brady would start at quarterback when he returned from his suspension- not because anyone suspected anything differently, but because Belichick isn’t the type to make that explicitly clear.
So when Belichick held a press conference on Tuesday and talked about 3rd round rookie guard Joe Thuney, it caught my attention.
“Joe has done a good job with what we've given him,” Belichick said. “There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I'd say temporary move, it wasn't permanent. But he has handled it well, so I think he's certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don't think we're there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason; had a good spring.”
Belichick didn’t give Thuney the job, but the fact that Thuney is “certainly moving towards being able to lock something down,” is pretty much Belichick singing praise from the rafters.
Thuney has been the best offensive lineman for the Patriots this preseason and his presence has done wonders to settle down left tackle Nate Solder. And while it would be easy to compare Thuney to another former-tackle-turned-guard in Logan Mankins, I think ESPN’s Mike Reiss has a better comparison.
@PP_Rich_Hill Hi Rich, one comp I like from a polish/position standpoint is Dan Koppen (5th round, 2003, immediate starter).— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 23, 2016
The Patriots drafted Dan Koppen out of Boston College in the 5th round of the 2003 draft and he started 120 games over the next 9 seasons; the only game of his Patriots career that he didn’t start was the 31-0 loss to the Bills to open his rookie season. Belichick put Koppen in the lineup in week 2 and didn’t look back.
I think this comparison tempers the expectations a little bit, in a reasonable way. Logan Mankins is a fringe Hall of Fame player, while Koppen was generally a top level, but not elite, player at center. If Thuney can start for the Patriots at left guard for the next decade at an above average level, then he’s a total steal in the 3rd round.
Thuney has exceeded all of my expectations thus far, and I have to admit that I look forward to rewatching the game tape to see his offensive line performance.
Here’s to hoping that Thuney can continue to play at a high level and that he may officially win a starting spot in the near future.