FOXBORO – In his three NFL seasons, Joe Thuney has been a mainstay at left guard in New England. Since joining the team as a third-round pick out of N.C. State in 2016, Thuney has started 48 regular season games and nine playoff contests, including three Super Bowls, at the position.
But during the Patriots' veteran mandatory minicamp this week on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium Thuney has been lining up at left tackle protecting Tom Brady’s blindside.
Thuney’s reps at the position are born out of necessity. After starting all 16 games at left tackle in his first season in New England last fall, Trent Brown hit the jackpot by signing a $60 million contract with Oakland. Last year’s top pick, Isaiah Wynn, has yet to take part in group or team action this spring as he works back from a torn Achilles suffered last preseason that wiped out his rookie year. The team even lost veteran free agent addition Jared Veldheer – who’d started 113 NFL games, mostly at left tackle for three different teams – to a surprise retirement last month.
So, that’s left Thuney to bump outside, at least for non-contact OTA and minicamp practice action.
“It’s been going well. Just, you know, I guess the more you can do the more you can help the team,” Thuney said after practice on Wednesday, sounding every bit a career Patriot. “I’m excited to be out there playing.”
Despite having played only left guard in the NFL, Thuney makes sense as an option at left tackle, at least over the short term. At 6-5 and 308 pounds, he doesn’t look out of place in the role. And though he started games at every spot other than center in college, Thuney was actually drafted out of N.C. State following an All-ACC season at left tackle as a senior. He did not allow a sack during 589 snaps of left tackle action in his final year with the Wolfpack.
“You are blocking different body types,” Thuney said of the adjustment, bumping one spot out on the left side of the line. “But fundamentals still translate through all positions on the o-line. So, just getting a feel for it out there. My teammates have been great helping me. It’s going pretty well.”
While Thuney is helping Bill Belichick and legendary Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia out in a time of need, showing an ability to perform at tackle could help out the veteran as he plays out the final season of his rookie contract in 2019. In the high-paid, tackle-needy world of the NFL, putting reps at left tackle on tape even in just preseason action could make Thuney more money moving forward, either in New England or in free agency next offseason.
Of course that’s not something Thuney is looking to talk too much about at this point.
“I got a great agent. I let him worry about all that. I just focus on what I can do on the field,” Thuney said.
For this week, at least, that focus is on brushing up his game at left tackle.
If Wynn gets healthy and on the field in training camp, maybe he’ll take over the job. If New England dips into the free agent market again, maybe another experienced veteran journeyman type will take a shot at the spot. If neither of those things happen, Thuney is preparing to be called upon.
“I have complete faith in the coaches and just play where they want me to play. I’m just happy to be out on the field. Any opportunity to play I’m pumped at,” Thuney concluded. “The playbook is the playbook. Obviously there are some different assignments at tackle, so just trying to iron those out. I’m just trying to improve a little bit each day in the spring. That’s been my focus."