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Chatting with the O-line on media day

The Patriots offensive line works well together on the field, but how close is the group off of it? My Media Day quest was to find that out.

Continuity, cohesion and consistency. That's what an offensive line tries to build on the field. But who cares about that?

This is Tuesday. It's media day, the most lighthearted of Super Bowl week. It's a time when players tend to let their guard down and have fun with the couple thousand media members on hand.

It's their last day before Super Bowl preparation begins in earnest with Wednesday's practice. So it's their last chance to blow off steam, and plenty blows off during some of the weird media day interviews conducted by men dressed in costumes and lab coats, by kids presenting spelling tests and by the serious reporter with his eyes focused on Sunday's matchup (I was not that guy).

Since players tend to be looser and care free in the media day spotlight, it's a chance to get off the beaten path. Last year on Super Bowl Tuesday, I searched to find a player with the guts to play a practical joke on Bill Belichick (Mike Vrabel was the answer if you care), but this season I was out to find out details about the Patriots close-knit offensive line's persona.

Forget about pass protection, run blocking, game day communication and blitz pickups. This is about conversations that go on in their private moments over dinner at Outlaw Barbecue on Route 1 in Foxborough, Mass.

This about the leader, the clown and the troublemaker. It's about making fun of each other and having fun with each other. The Patriots offensive line does both well.

Take Tuesday for example. After pulling off their skin-tight white Patriots jerseys, the ones they will wear on Super Bowl Sunday, the Patriots offensive line headed off to some Florida plantation to go shoot clay pigeons and go fishing. It's likely that left tackle Matt Light imparted some wisdom to his linemates during the outing.

"Light knows everything," said reserve guard Gene Mruczkowski, who along with right tackle Brandon Gorin, played with Light at Purdue.

"That's true," guard Stephen Neal added. "He knows everything and everything he has is the best."

With that in hand, I headed over to Matt Light, who one of his teammates described as a talker. Light confirmed that description when he gave his not-so-brief, non-succinct synopsis of media day.

"It's organized chaos. It's ridiculous, silly banter between people that ask all the same questions on a regular basis without really knowing what they want to talk about in a manner that really gets annoying and old after a while in which guys become sleepy and stop talking over an enormously large period of time with a clock that ticks down very slowly and exhausting tired fun. That's pretty much it though," Light said.

But do you know everything as your pals claim you think you do?

"I do know everything," he confirmed. "A little bit of everything."

If Light knows everything, Gorin questions everything.

"Oh he's the antagonizer," Light said of Gorin. "He's a devil's advocate. I would say the sky is blue and Brandon would say that it's not really blue, but every color but blue which is why you see blue."

Reserve lineman Russ Hochstein (pronounced Hoke-Stine by him and Hock-Steen by some of his linemates) agreed that Gorin is often looking for conflict.

"He plays both sides really well," Hochstein said. "He instigates a lot of things. He tries to pick little fights. Brandon knows how to push Matt's buttons."

"They say I like to provoke people," Gorin said as if pleading ignorance to such a blasphemous accusation. "They call me the instigator."

"Brandon does like to question everything," Mruczkowski confirmed.

All of this is in good fun of course. This ribbing takes place over holiday meals at Joe Andruzzi's house or at a charity function or over tasty barbecue at Outlaw. Andruzzi is the group's ringleader and the man to go to for a serious opinion on the line's relationship.

"I think we're a close group. We come out every week and play hard for each other. We prepare well and all five of us work together as one. You want guys that are comfortable with each other and will play hard for each other and understand each other. We do stuff together and I try to get them involved in some of the community things I do."

So while Joe is the ringleader, Brandon is the antagonist and Light is the know-it-all class clown, what does that make Neal and Dan Koppen.

"Koppen is a red head so he gets made fun of naturally," Hochstein claimed. Neal added this: "He's dirty with that long hair. But we call him super-vet because he's been here two years and has started for two years and has been to two Super Bowls. He doesn't know how good he has it."

What about you Stephen, the raw athlete wrestler turned starting NFL offensive lineman?

"They make fun of me because the wrestling thing keeps coming up and because I eat more than anyone they've ever seen."

So who, then, is the most intellectual of the group? "That's a tough question," Hochstein said. "There are not a lot of intellectual guys in this group. We're like Norm and Cliff from Cheers. Sometimes we have conversations about random, weird things."

"Russ always seems to be the butt of the jokes," Gorin said. "He's a typical country boy from a town of about 1,600 (Hartington, Neb.). So you have to make fun of him."

"He does do things that make you laugh," Andruzzi added. "He's usually the first one to fall on the ground in practice and we get a good laugh. He makes certain funny faces."

"Russ is the same way as Light so when you get them together, they're going to argue the whole time," Neal said. "But Russ will start arguing on thing and then when you tell him you have information proving it the other way, he'll say something like, 'yeah that's my point.' He sets himself up."

"I didn't know they made fun of me," Hochstein said when told of his teammates comments. "I'm more gullible than some people so I guess I get a lot of ribbing. I react to it and ask for more. That happens from time to time."

So there you have it. Media day is a good time to talk to offensive lineman about hanging out together and building off-the-field camaraderie that contributes to on-the-field continuity rather than discussing the exploits of Jevon and Corey Simon. The quota will be filled the rest of the week. The Patriots group epitomizes that approach with the utmost sincerity.

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