FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Recently retired offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer was in the middle of sharing thoughts on each of the Patriots' starting offensive linemen when he abruptly stopped. His message was simple: The discussion should have started with Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Vollmer lived it for eight seasons as a Patriot. Now he's sharing his perspective as he considers transitioning into a possible media career.
"One of the greatest who ever coached," Vollmer said of Scarnecchia, who is affectionately referred to as "Scar" in New England. "I don't want to take any credit away from the players, but you really have to credit the coaching job they do. You take a Joe Schmo like me and make him a serviceable player; they do this over and over again, and it’s amazing to watch."
As the Patriots prepare for the start of training camp this week -- rookies report Monday, veterans arrive Wednesday and the first practice is Thursday -- Vollmer's words highlight the importance of Scarnecchia's return for a second season after having spent 2014 and 2015 in retirement.
Scarnecchia, 69, oversaw an offensive line last season that had all five starters play over 90 percent of the snaps. His return specifically seemed to bring out the best in right tackle Marcus Cannon, and the way Vollmer sees it, Scarnecchia's decision to end the practice of rotating personnel was one of the unsung coaching moves from last year.
"To me, that's really the key," Vollmer said. "The five guys that played, they didn't rotate and luckily they stayed together."
Meanwhile, how much longer Scarnecchia stays with the Patriots beyond 2017 is unknown. Highly regarded understudy Cole Popovich is learning by his side for a second straight season, which is a dynamic in which Scarnecchia could be developing not just offensive linemen but also his eventual successor.
2. Insight from Vollmer, who was with the Patriots from 2009-2016, on each of the team's five starting offensive linemen:
Left tackle Nate Solder: "He is one of the most gifted athletes I've ever seen. A guy that big [6-foot-8, 325 pound] shouldn't be able to move as well as he does. He came in my third year, and I remember watching him get drafted -- we were at Vince Wilfork's charity event -- and all the cameras turned toward me and asked, 'Is he going to take your spot?' The way he carried himself from a rookie to now, I view him as one of the best left tackles in the league. Seeing him grow as a man, a husband, a father, I think a lot of people can learn a lot from him."
Left guard Joe Thuney: "How many rookies come in and from Day 1 do what he did [start every game and play 1,114 of 1,118 snaps]? You have to prove yourself somehow and be better than a veteran who has done that before. He stepped in. I think it also helps having a good center next to him, who knows the system. Nate, I'm sure, also helped him quite a bit on the other side. But still, you can have Logan Mankins next to you and if you're not a good player, you're still not going to be worth anything. It's a tribute to him. He's like one of those old-school guys. You don't want to compare anybody to Logan Mankins, but kind of those qualities of just coming in and doing your thing, you appreciate that about him."
Center David Andrews: "Really, really, really smart kid. Knowing the offense as quickly as he did was impressive. I feel like the further out you are, the less you have to know. So centers have to know the system really well, the guards probably a little less and the tackles, it's sort of like 'just block that guy.' The game adjusts less for the tackles than those on the inside. So you think about that, and how Andrews was able to come in and make that spot his own as an undrafted player, it's a credit to him."
Right guard Shaq Mason: "I played next to him when they thrust him in pretty early [in 2015], and there was a learning curve. It's always hard to compare a rookie next to a bunch of veterans, but Bill always says it: The biggest jump you make is between the first and second year because you've been through a training camp, you know the plays and you can really hone in on things. Shaq really embraced that. I thought he did well and his run-blocking was outstanding. He had never pass-blocked in college, so he had to learn that. It took him a year, and now he's flourished. Him and Marcus [Cannon], some of their double teams, it was incredible to watch. You're seeing them push guys 10 yards back. It's a really good duo."
Right tackle Marcus Cannon: "From the start to now, an incredible story. The way he started, obviously, with some health issues [non-Hodgkins lymphoma]. Being a swing guy, being a guard, trying to find a spot for him. He's obviously an incredibly talented player, there's no doubt about that. Looking at him, he's like an ox out there -- just strong, gifted. He's a heavy, big man who can still run. Not being able to play myself, but seeing him step in and making that spot his own, I thought he had a really, really good season. It's gratifying to see."
3a. Did You Know: The Patriots' season-opening opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, have an NFL-best 22-4 record since Week 7 of the 2015 season. Sounds like the type of statistic Bill Belichick might already have highlighted as he gets the Patriots ready for training camp, which he annually refers to as a critical time in which the focus is twofold: to prepare for the 16-game season and also for the opener, which Belichick says is usually one of the most unpredictable games of the year.
3b. Did You Know, Part II: After cutting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Chiefs don't have a wide receiver on their roster with more than three years of NFL experience.
4. Longtime Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who at 33 joins linebacker David Harris and kicker Stephen Gostkowski as the second-oldest players on the roster, was asked on PFT Live last week if he could envision himself playing for another team at this point of his career. "I wouldn't do that," he answered. So it's Patriots or bust for Ninkovich, who obviously feels strongly about what his time with the Patriots has meant to him. Ninkovich's career took off after joining the club as a free agent in 2009.
5. From the one-stop-shop department: Over the last two weeks, I've put together a position-by-position primer on the Patriots entering training camp, and here they are in one place:
Quarterbacks -- Three QBs ties to future planning
Offensive line -- Primary competition at the backup spots
It will be a neat exercise to go back and see how accurate the roster "locks" are when the final 53-man roster is formed. I projected 42 locks, which from my view means there are 11 "other" spots if everyone remains healthy. I felt like I was stingy in some areas, but when do things ever truly go according to plan?
6. Retired wide receiver Wes Welker was back in town last week as part of promotional blitz for Leonard Hair Transplant Associates, and said being on the Houston Texans coaching staff with Mike Vrabel (defensive coordinator) and Larry Izzo (special teams coach) was like taking a trip back to 2007 in the Patriots locker room: "It's fun because in '07, we had just a good crew of guys, the guys we had in the locker room. It's not quite the same when you're coaching, but it's kind of that same dynamic of talking trash, laughing with each other, having fun with it. We can say whatever we want to each other. We're close like that."
7. Guard Chase Farris, who spent last season on the Patriots' practice squad and was working mostly with the second unit in spring practices, tore his Achilles while preparing for training camp, according to sources close to him. That is what led the Patriots to waive him on Thursday with a non-football injury designation. Farris, an Ohio State alum, was scheduled to undergo surgery and now hopes to make a run at a Patriots roster spot in 2018. Farris was a bubble player to make the 53-man roster, a prospect in whom the club invested significant time in 2016. The injury chips away at the team's depth along the interior of the offensive line before the first day of training camp practice, which is never ideal. The Patriots now have an open roster spot, and one would think interior offensive line is a top area the Patriots will target to fill it.
8. The Carolina Panthers are the only team whose primary owner (Jerry Richardson) is a former player, and that's what I kept coming back to when trying to understand the reasoning for firing general manager Dave Gettleman. In four years, Gettleman had cleaned up a bad salary-cap situation, posted a 40-23-1 record, won three straight NFC South titles and advanced to one Super Bowl (loss to Denver). That's solid work by any measure, as Gettleman made some unpopular but important and emotionless decisions in a Bill Belichick-type fashion. In the end, the underlying theme in some of the fine reporting from Carolina was that Richardson was uneasy with the hard line Gettleman was holding in negotiations with beloved veteran players such as linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen. So he sided with the players.
9. Shortly after Patriots Hall of Famer Babe Parilli died at the age of 87 on July 15, fellow Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti passed along a note that Parilli wrote him in 2011 inside the cover of his "Kentucky Babe" book. "To Gino," the note began. "What a run we had. My grand opera twin." There are many great football stories about how the bonds of being a teammate can result in a lifelong friendship. That's a special one, Patriots-1960s style.
10. A quick primer on what to expect this week from a Patriots media perspective: Bill Belichick's first news conference could come as early as Wednesday, which is the day players report. The club could also have a few of its captains -- safety Devin McCourty and Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater are likely candidates -- available that day as well, along with assistant coaches. Then things will truly shift into higher gear Thursday, with the first practice in the 9 a.m. hour. Belichick is scheduled to hold news conferences before each practice. The current extended forecast for Thursday calls for highs around 80 degrees.