Late last week, the New England Patriots' assistant coaches met with the media for the first time since the Super Bowl. Among those to speak to the journalists was offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who will play a key role in finding the next blindside protector for Tom Brady: The Patriots are currently looking for a player to replace long-time starting left tackle Nate Solder, who left the team via free agency in March.
New England certainly has plenty of options even after releasing 2017 third-round draft pick Antonio Garcia with a non-football injury designation on Friday: The team added four players at the position since Solder left to compete against the incoming group of offensive tackles. Scarnecchia spoke about the competition during his media availability and gave a little insight regarding certain players' roles in it.
Most notably, the veteran coach noted that the Patriots would try out both first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn and in-draft trade acquisition Trent Brown at the vacant left tackle spot over the course of the summer. With Garcia no longer part of the equation, Wynn and Brown are now the clear-cut frontrunners for the top two spots at left tackle – ahead of LaAdrian Waddle, Cole Croston, Matt Tobin, Ulrick John, and Andrew Jelks.
Considering Wynn's draft status, the fact that New England invested a third-round selection to get Brown (and a fifth-rounder), and both players' upside in pass protection, this comes as little surprise. What is noteworthy, though, is Scarnecchia noting that the team would try Brown on the left side after he had spent the last two years as the San Francisco 49ers' starting right tackle.
The 6'8, 380 lbs behemoth was rather successful in this role in 2017: Before seeing his season cut short in December because of a shoulder injury, Brown was having the best campaign of his three-year NFL career and according to advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus allowed only one sack, six quarterback hits and nine hurries on 415 pass-blocking snaps.
Wynn was similarly impressive in 2017: In his first year as Georgia's starting left tackle – he was the Bulldogs' starting left guard the two prior years – the 6'2, 310 lbs lineman gave up only five total pressures and did not allow a sack. And even though he tore his labrum in November (an injury that led to surgery after the season), he did not miss any games because of the issue and was still effective as both a run blocker and pass protector.
However, Scarnecchia pointed out that both he and Brown are expected to be limited until training camp because of their respective ailments. The duo will likely be joined on the sidelines by two other linemen as starting left guard Joe Thuney recently underwent foot surgery, while starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is still recovering from an ankle injury that forced New England to put him on season-ending injured reserve last December.
Scarnecchia, who is entering his 33rd season in New England, offered additional insight into how the Patriots view Cannon. The offensive line coach noted that the team would very much prefer keeping the veteran on the right side. Even with the opening at left tackle, this does not come as a surprise: While Cannon was inconsistent on the left side in 2015, he played his best football the two following years after moving to the right.