FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dante Scarnecchia hasn’t watched any of the Patriots’ padded practices in person. But the offensive line guru has certainly read about all the difficulties the team, and his old O-line in particular, have had adjusting to the new outside zone running scheme, which is now being paired with a bootleg, play-action passing game.
His reaction? Relax, it’s not panic time just yet.
Scarnecchia believes Bill Belichick will know after joint practices with the Panthers and Raiders and the team’s three preseason games if the scheme is a worthy pursuit or if the Pats should just keep it in their back pocket.
“I would say this, in fairness to everyone, I just think this is the wrong time to evaluate it. The pads have come on, but they’re not playing real football yet,” Scarnecchia told the Herald on Monday. “Whenever they play the Giants, we’ll have a better idea where this thing is. Even at that point, it’s not totally fair to say they can’t (do it).
“I think there’s a (three-game) process at hand, where we’ll have a better idea where this thing is going. … What doesn’t look good in training camp early has no bearing on anything.”
Scarnecchia would know, having won five Super Bowls and coached the Patriots offensive line for 18 years under Belichick. But what if the offense still looks clunky at the end of the month?
In Scar’s view, Belichick will scrap it. Others who have played for Belichick — former linebacker Ted Johnson for one — disagree, believing the head coach will stubbornly stay with the new way. Scarnecchia, however, was firm in his take.
“Bill’s never been one to say, ‘We’re going to run this no matter how it looks,’” he said. “He won’t do that. I can remember him saying numerous times, ‘We’re going on to something else.’
“But in the meantime, you can’t stick your toe in the water and say this is what it’s going to be. You’ve just got to make the leap, trust the techniques, and trust the guys involved.
“They’re good enough up front, and I’m sure they’re good enough at tight end, and all the rest of it. You can run behind Trent Brown or Isaiah Wynn.”
As for the notion that the Patriots never switched to a Kyle Shanahan-like scheme because former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Scar and former running backs coach Ivan Fears vetoed it, the former O-line coach denied it unequivocally.
“I can tell you without a doubt, we ran the outside zone play,” said Scarnecchia. “What we didn’t run off that action are the bootlegs off that, which is what you’re seeing from San Francisco, the Rams, all those teams where that came from. And why didn’t we do that?”
The answer is because Tom Brady, as great as he was, wasn’t suited to rolling out and running the bootlegs that the Patriots are now trying to incorporate.
Scarnecchia, McDaniels and Fears didn’t have to squelch the notion. They didn’t have to sway Belichick to stop that in its tracks. It was obvious it wouldn’t work with the personnel involved.
According to the legendary assistant, they actually tried during Brady’s time, even though it didn’t seem like the best option for the GOAT. They practiced the boot actions and ran a few in games. But when Brady was stripped of the ball the first time they tried it, that was pretty much the end of that.
In other words, no pushback was necessary.
Still, the Patriots did utilize the outside zone from time to time, thanks to having a great blocking tight end in Rob Gronkowski. It wasn’t a staple of the offense, but it was certainly in their bag of tricks.
“I’d say we were as good a team at running the outside zone to the open side, the non-tight end side, as anybody in football,” said Scarnecchia. “And we were good at running it to the tight end side when we had a good enough tight end to block it — Rob Gronkowski. So we ran it.
“We ran it out of two-back sets a lot with Sony Michel (in 2018). … We ran toss-crack, we ran outside zone, we ran the gap runs inside, whatever we felt like we could do, we did.”
And that, Scarnecchia suspects, will be the approach in 2022. They’ll go with what works.
Then the question becomes whether or not Mac Jones is suited for these moving play-action fakes. Scarnecchia was sure the second-year quarterback was more than capable of accomplishing the mission.
“He did it in college, and I think he’s got a skill set,” said Scarnecchia.
“Mac Jones, I would suspect, is faster than Tom Brady. I’m not saying more athletic, because I think Tom is a fabulous athlete. But I’m sure they’re going into it thinking he can do those things. You bootleg, you come out, you throw the ball, and you try to get it thrown fast.”