FOXBORO — The Friday before Christmas was a big day for the Patriots’ offensive line.
Marcus Cannon walked away with a brand new scooter, while others took home a speaker system, a duffel bag, power tools and even an electric guitar. This was part of the linemen’s annual Yankee Swap, which offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia once again did not participate in.
“I can’t afford it. $500 minimum, to hell with it, I’m not doing that,” he said. “Why would I? My wife would kill me.”
Cannon knows what he’s doing. As the longest tenured offensive lineman he selects first, which means he also has the chance to swap with any other gift at the end. The starting right tackle usually buys something he wants for himself and then ultimately makes sure he gets it at the end.
This is just one of many off-field activities the group partakes in over the course of the year.
“It’s definitely a big part to get out and enjoy each other’s company,” center David Andrews said. “Sometimes it is hard to cut loose in here and really get to share and talk about things. Any time we get together off the field those are always cherished moments.”
Other activities include going out to dinner as a group, or even just relaxing together on a Friday afternoon following a long week of practice.
“When we’re around each other here, as much as a good time as you can have, there’s still work to be done and any time you can let loose with each other out of the building it is always special,” backup interior lineman Ted Karras said.
Aside Trent Brown at left tackle, the starting unit has been together for a full three seasons and it has shown on the field. The group has had one of its best seasons yet. Cannon (right tackle) has been around since 2011, while Andrews (center), Shaq Mason (right guard) and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle (swing tackle) have been with the team since 2015 and then Karras (backup interior) and Joe Thuney (left guard) came aboard in 2016.
The Patriots allowed a total of 21 sacks this year, which was the third-fewest in the entire league. Also, their 68 quarterback hits allowed were the fourth-fewest. This is even more impressive when you consider Tom Brady attempted 570 passes, the ninth-most in the NFL.
It isn’t just in the passing game, either. The offensive line’s run blocking has been very effective in paving the way for rookie Sony Michel to have 931 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games. In addition, the Patriots rushed for over 170 yards as a team four times, which is a major credit to the offensive line.
Not to mention, Pro Football Focus ranked the group the fourth-best in football behind the Colts, Browns and Steelers.
“Dave has done a great job since I have been here, and Joe and Shaq — it’s nice,” Karras said. “I would say year three now, everyone knows the rules where as a rookie I am trying to figure out the rules and kind of get caught up. Now everyone kind of knows what we’re doing and getting into a groove. There’s been a lot of continuity and I am really glad to be apart of it.”
Perhaps more than any other position in football, trust is extremely important and with all the time the Patriots linemen spend together, they certainly have that. Their camaraderie has translated to the field and the results speak for themselves.
“We’re a pretty tight-knit group and we are fortunate enough to play a lot of football together,” Andrews said. “It’s great room and I am glad to be apart of it.”