There are generally only a handful of occasions when the media is allowed access to assistant coaches, and Tuesday's OTA practice in Foxborough was one of them. While all the position coaches as well as the coordinators were made available, my choice was an easy one.
Dante Scarnecchia is as thoughtful and incisive as any coach I've ever talked with. He's as old school as they come, choosing to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible while displaying fierce loyalty to his players whenever necessary.
Last summer, one such example manifested itself. It came during training camp when the Patriots were in Tampa for some joint practices before their preseason game in August. The offensive line, Scarnecchia's area of expertise in New England since 1999, had come under fire due to some inconsistent play early in the preseason and the veteran coach had heard just about enough criticism of his young left tackle, Nate Solder.
Solder replaced mainstay Matt Light at the position and in just his second season was being relied upon to fill the void. Scarnecchia's spirited defense of Solder was a highlight of the 2012 season, and not coincidentally it led preceded Solder's emergence as a more than capable successor to Light.
With that in mind, Scarnecchia was asked about Solder's development and how comfortable the former first-round pick looks as he's set to enter his third season.
"He's played a lot of football but he's not very satisfied with where he is at this point," said Scarnecchia, who is ready to begin his 30th year with the Patriots. "He's driven to be a better player and to improve himself physically. He has a great work ethic and is a very smart guy and those things will serve him very well. He has goals I'm sure for this year to play at the highest level he possibly can. He'll be fine."
Scarnecchia enjoys this part of the offseason where teaching and learning are essential elements of team success. Although the starting line projects to return intact, Scarnecchia is without Sebastian Vollmer (knee) and Dan Connolly (shoulder) for OTAs, but that just provides more time to do what he loves most.
"I love OTAs and mini-camps and all that in the spring because I think you really have a great opportunity to develop hopefully what will be a strong foundation of technique and footwork and doing the things in run and pass protection that we like to do," he said. "We only have a couple of team periods and the rest of the time we go [off on our own] and play with all these little toys. I really like this time of year. I like teaching the game. It's going all right."
"[The injuries] gives us a lot of opportunity to work the guys that are practicing right now. We have some young guys with our second group so we have to bring them along as fast as we can."
Throughout his tenure one word that consistently describes Scarnecchia is consistency. He's always prepared, in impeccable condition and is often seen running his sprints post-practice – often in the blazing heat and humidity of training camp. His message is simple: Be prepared.
"I'm not concerned about keeping it fresh. I'm concerned about them getting the message," he said. "Some of them have heard it a long time. A long time. But it ain't changing. We have to play a certain way. We have to play with a lot of passion and energy. None of that is changing. Relative to the number of guys coming back, I don't think that means anything to us. You have to prove yourself every day in this league. If you don't, if you're not willing to prove yourself every day and [you're] complacent, it will be a [butt]-kicking of astronomical proportions. None of us wants that."
With 44 years in coaching coupled with the presence of Brian Daboll, who has been working with the tackles during OTAs after returning to New England last January, Scarnecchia was asked about the possibility of retirement in the near future. As is his way the veteran coach refused to discuss himself and insisted on focusing on the team.
"I love doing this job. If you stand on this field, you know that I love doing this job," Scarnecchia said. "I'll do it as long as I can do it. … I really like teaching the game, whether it's in the classroom or on the field. It brings so much joy to me. I actually can't wait to get to the office during the day; that's why I don't sleep very long at night. I love coaching football. … Living the dream. … There are really good coaches in this league and they always find ways to challenge you, so when they challenge us, we collectively have to find a way to get it done. That's what it's all about. It's a great game."