Early on during the New England Patriots’ 2018 offseason program, the team fielded an offensive line that looked noticably different than the one that started in the Super Bowl just four months earlier. The left side in particular underwent some turnover since February: gone was long-time starting tackle Nate Solder, who signed a record-breaking deal with the New York Giants, while guard Joe Thuney was also nowhere to be found.
Thuney’s third year in the NFL began with rehab: he had to undergo surgery in the offseason to repair an injured foot. As a result, first-round rookie Isaiah Wynn saw extensive snaps at the left guard spot between established starting center David Andrews and newly acquired tackle Trent Brown. While this might have created some speculation over Thuney’s future with the Patriots, colleague Rich Hill correctly pointed out that ”we shouldn’t assume that Thuney’s spot in the starting lineup is in jeopardy.“
Rich — as usual — would be proven right. Thuney was back on the field as New England’s top left guard once the club opened its training camp in late July. During those days, he laid the foundation for his best year to date: the 26-year old improved as both a road grader in the running game and a pass protector and became one of the Patriots’ most consistent offensive performers. His availability played a big role in that as well.
Thuney was the only player on New England’s roster to not miss an offensive or defensive snap this season. Through the team’s 16 regular season games, he product was on the field for 1,119 offensive snaps (plus 82 in the kicking game as well) — a herculean effort that has become the norm for the N.C. State: over his three-year career so far, he has missed just 12 of a possible 3,841 snaps and was on the field for 99.7% of all available offensive action.
“Joe’s had a tremendous three years of durability. We know with the time he missed in the spring, which obviously is less of a setback than it is during the season,” Bill Belichick said after last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. The Patriots’ head coach was also quick to point out how the entire unit was fortunate this season when it came to health. “We’ve had good consistency from all of those guys.”
”Those guys train hard,“ Belichick continued about his offensive line. ”They work hard and they take a lot of snaps, not only in the games but in practice. It’s a very durable group, a tough group. Marcus [Cannon] missed a couple of games, Shaq [Mason] missed a couple of games — [the other players] have been in there not only every game, but every practice and that helps our team because we get consistency and timing and so forth.“
The aforementioned David Andrews, who himself appeared in all 16 regular season games and played 1,103 of the Patriots’ offensive snaps, also noted how lucky he and his teammates were when it came to availability this year so far. ”We’ve been very fortunate within the inside guys. I think we’ve missed, between all three of us, like four or five games the last three years, so it’s been pretty impressive,“ the team captain said before also turning his attention to Thuney.
”Joe’s done a great job ever since he got here. He’s tough, he’s dependable and you know he’s going to show up. It’s been impressive to see what he’s done,” continued Andrews. “I think his rookie year, he might have been an iron man too, but we took him out for some trick play or something in Denver or something like that. He’s done a great job and he’s worked his butt off to stay healthy, stay out there.“
This season has been no exception for Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked guard: Thuney has been on the field and he has been productive. And as a result, he appears to be a serious candidate for a contract extension coming his way soon. Three years into his career, he is certainly on the right track for it — which would allow New England’s interior trio to be kept intact for years to come.