The New England Patriots needed to coax offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement to salvage the wreckage and remains of a line that fell apart over the course of two rough seasons. Scarnecchia plans on returning to the Patriots in 2017 at the age of 69, but the Patriots are prepared for the time Scar finally takes a backseat.
We covered offensive assistant Cole Popovich last summer when we spoke with his former coaches, all of whom expressed a belief that Popovich would be a star in the NFL. The Patriots players were a little more reserved in their statements, but it’s clear that Popovich is already having an impact.
“Cole does a lot for us,” Patriots C David Andrews said, after he finished laughing at the mention of Popovich. “Whether it's breaking down film. You know, just another resource. Law students go to all different kinds of law books, well, you go to Scar, you go to Cole, you got to use all the resources that you have, so that's what we try to do.”
While Andrews seemed to know what Popovich did, the Patriots veteran tackles were less certain.
“I don't know exactly what Cole does,” LT Nate Solder said. “He's kind of behind closed doors. I know he does a lot of the pre-scouting, but I don't know exactly what his role is defined as."
“You really got to talk to him about that,” RT Marcus Cannon said.
Popovich seemed a little incredulous that I wanted to ask him questions, but he explained his role with the team.
“It's just been whatever they ask me to do,” Popovich said. “It's been a lot of film breakdowns and just helping with the offensive line, really with the whole offense, seeing if the coaches need anything. It's a little more time to the offensive line, but anybody that needs anything.”
Popovich played at Fresno State with former Patriots OL Ryan Wendell, under the tutelage of head coach Pat Hill. Hill served as Bill Belichick’s offensive line coach in Cleveland, so there is a clear connection with Popovich and the Patriots offensive line job.
“I think I definitely benefited going to Fresno State and playing for Pat Hill,” Popovich said. “There are a lot of similarities in the styles and some of the stuff they did there, to here, there are a lot of differences too, but I guess it's helped some."
Perhaps it is Popovich’s youth that draws the Patriots interior linemen to him, but Andrews has found the young coach to be helpful in his development early in his career.
“Definitely just another resource that you can have,” Andrews explained. “He might notice something different, or might help you here, or might have a way of communicating something that might help you out.”
Popovich won’t take over as the Patriots offensive line coach in 2017, but don’t be surprised if he receives a promotion to assistant offensive line coach in the coming years if the time comes for Scarnecchia to move back into retirement.
And, this time, the Patriots are far more prepared for a change.