Anyone who's seen them together can tell they're comfortable with each other.
In public, you rarely see one without the other.
And it seems they're in it for the long haul.
You might even say that things have never been better for Tom Brady.
Yep, New England's franchise QB should feel very good about his current relationship with...his offensive line (who did you think I was talking about?).
At a position that operates best under consistent, familiar conditions, the Patriots are very fortunate. The nucleus of New England's o-line, including reserves from last year's 53-man roster, is under contract through the 2009 season.
Some might argue that there are no stars up front, save Matt Light. And even he only made the Pro Bowl for the first time this year, and as an alternate, at that.
But the most productive offensive linemen are often the least heralded. The ones who don't allow many quarterback sacks, for example. The ones who can run-block with authority when called upon. The ones who can step in and replace a starter and not miss an assignment. The ones who aren't flagged for penalties every other down.
The ones…well, the ones like New England has.
Center Dan Koppen anchors the line, with former collegiate wrestler Stephen Neal and first-round pick Logan Mankins flanking him at guard. Light protects Brady's blind side on the left, while, at right tackle, Nick Kaczur often shares time with Ryan O'Callaghan, a rookie last season.
Versatile backups include guard/center Russ Hochstein, tackle Wesley Britt, guard/center Gene Mruczkowski, and guard Billy Yates. The team is also carrying first-year players Sean Bubin, a tackle, and center Brian Barthelmes, who spent most of last season on the practice squad.
Given their depth of talent and contractual security at the position, it shouldn't be surprising that the Patriots haven't acquired any offensive linemen since free agency began nearly a month ago.
Which isn't to say they won't do so before the signing period ends. At this point, however, they're more likely to grab a rookie or two in next month's NFL Draft.
Until then, the o-line continues taking part in offseason strength and conditioning workouts with the rest of the team. Koppen, entering his fifth NFL season, couldn't be happier to be back at Gillette, especially after the team's disappointing loss in the AFC Championship Game.
"Feels good, just really excited," he said this week. "It's one of those things where you don't want your season to end the way it did. It's only something that time can heal. Getting back and seeing the guys come back and starting to build for the '07 season, it's exciting. When everybody gets back everything picks up a notch, so, it's always a fun time of year."
Light echoed his line mate's sentiments recently. Not only is he happy to be working out again, he's also grateful to be healthy.
"In my six years here, I've only had a couple season where I've been able to walk into this early part and really feel good," Light told the Boston Herald earlier this week. "I think with every guy, that's your goal. You want to end the season healthy and not have to have surgery, get a little more time to relax, and then come back and hit it hard."
Health is a blessing for which Koppen is also thankful.
"I laid on my couch. It was great," he confessed when asked how he spent this winter. "Last year, coming back from the (shoulder) injury and rehabbing the whole year, it was kind of non-stop. So, when the season ended this year I just shut everything down and just tried to relax, and get away from people…recharge my battery."
What do they think about the additions the Patriots have made through free agency?
"I think everybody's pretty excited about the fact that we got some veteran guys that can come in and make a big impact right away," offered Light.
"Scott (Pioli) and Bill (Belichick) have always done a good job of putting us in position…to win football games," he added. "This offseason, you've got to be a little bit more excited…some of the names they brought in, like Wes (Welker) and Adalius (Thomas)…Donté (Stallworth) and Kelley (Washington). They brought in some really spectacular football players and it's going to be fun to watch them develop in our system, and watch them make plays out on the football field."
The offensive line's optimism also extends to rehabbing running back Laurence Maroney, the Patriots expected starter who's nursing a shoulder injury for which he recently underwent surgery.
"He's the kind of guy that makes those 5-, 6-yard gains end up being 20 or 25," Light noted. "He's a young guy…I think he's going to do some great things for us."
Asked if he'd seen Maroney of late, Koppen acknowledged he had.
"Laurence…I saw him around a few weeks ago. He looked in good spirits."
Just like his offensive line.