With opening day almost two months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with the Patriots’ starting left guard.
Name: Joe Thuney
Position: Offensive guard
Jersey number: 62
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’5, 305 lbs.
2016 review: In the third round (pick #78) of the 2016 NFL draft, the Patriots selected a versatile offensive lineman out of N.C. State: Joe Thuney. Offering solid size to play tackle or guard, two positions he played extensively in college, New England's coaching staff opted to use him at the left guard spot. Thuney quickly established himself as the top option at the position – and held it throughout the year.
The rookie started all 16 of the Patriots' regular season games and all three of the team's playoff contests. With New England and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia moving away from a rotational approach along the line, Thuney rarely left the field and finished the regular season with a playing time percentage of 99.5% (1,114 of 1,120). He added 241 snaps during the postseason; all but one of the team's offensive snaps.
Thuney proved to adjust well to life in the NFL and his new position and started the year playing exceptional football. However, he still had his growing pains. As the season went along, his performances became a bit more inconsistent before bouncing back a bit during the playoffs. Still, he ultimately proved to be the weakest link on an overall strong offensive line, particularly in terms of pass blocking.
Overall, Thuney gave up four sacks as well as 11 hits and 43 hurries. He also was inconsistent as a run blocker as the team gained only 3.12 yards per attempt when running behind him. Furthermore, he was responsible for a team-high 10 penalties. Despite hitting the "rookie wall", however, Thuney was still a serviceable and durable member of New England's offense; one that has shown plenty of promise even if his final stat line does not fully reflect it.
All in all, his rookie campaign can therefore still be seen as a success. Not only was Thuney able to help the Patriots win the Super Bowl, he also established himself as the team's top option at left guard – a position he was not expected to play in the pros but is projected to hold down for the foreseeable future.
2017 preview: While Joe Thuney had his fair share of issues during his first NFL season, he was still able to show a lot of promise as a starter along the Patriots’ offensive line – promise that makes him a virtual roster lock. And unless one of the other guards on the roster pulls off an upset and beats out the N.C. State product, Thuney is expected to stay New England’s top option at left guard.
As such, the 24-year old is projected to again play close to 100% of the team’s offensive snaps and ideally is a more consistent lineman at that point. Adding strength, working on his technique and improving the communication with his fellow linemen are the key ingredients to make this happen over the course of training camp and the preseason. As a result, Thuney might also cut down on his team-leading penalty count.
If all that happens and he makes the famed second-year jump, Thuney has the potential to become the closest thing the Patriots have had to Logan Mankins since trading him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to the 2014 season: a long-term starter at the left guard position. And if Thuney does become that, New England’s interior offensive line should become even better and more consistent a unit than it already was at times last year.