FOXBORO, Mass. — For the second time in three years, the New England Patriots will introduce a new starting left tackle into the fold this season.
And just like he did with Trent Brown, Joe Thuney will serve as that player’s unofficial tour guide.
Thuney, who’s entering his fourth season as New England’s starting left guard, played a key role in Brown’s transition from San Francisco 49ers right tackle to Patriots left tackle in 2018, earning praise from both head coach Bill Belichick and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
“His consistency and ability to work with Trent literally every day in terms of passing games and seeing twists and some of our communication on third down and against some of the difficult fronts that teams give us in passing situations, that’s been huge for us,” Belichick said late last season.
With Brown now in Oakland after landing a big-money deal with the Raiders, 2018 first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn is the favorite to step into that all-important blind-side spot. Newly signed veteran Jared Veldheer is another candidate if Wynn struggles in his return from the torn Achilles that sidelined him for his entire rookie season.
Regardless of who starts opposite established right tackle Marcus Cannon, Thuney will be tasked with helping integrate him into a unit that operated like a souped-up snowplow down the stretch last season. (New England averaged 177.8 rushing yards per game from Week 16 through Super Bowl LIII)
“I just try to do what I can just to be the best player I can,” Thuney said Thursday at Gillette Stadium. “Everyone on the offensive line is trying to work together, so you just try to get everyone to work together the same way and see the game the same way and communicate what the defense is doing. So I just try to do my role the best I can.”
Brown and swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle (now with the Buffalo Bills) were the Patriots’ only notable O-line departures this offseason. Thuney, Cannon, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason all are in line to keep their starting jobs in 2019.
“As an offensive line, you always try to work together, especially the guys next to you,” Thuney said. “Coming into a new system’s always tough, but you just try to work with the whole unit and just try to get everyone up to speed. It’s all about communication and everyone seeing the game through the same set of eyes. Everyone being on the same page is really important.”
That continuity has been a boon for the Patriots, especially in the interior, as Thuney, Andrews and Mason have missed just four games between them over the last three seasons.
This season could be that trio’s last ride, however. Thuney, who in 2018 became the first Patriots player since 2013 to play 100 percent of offensive snaps, is entering the final year of his rookie contract and should be in line for a significant raise if he remains healthy.
Facing a similar situation with Mason last year, the Patriots signed him to a five-year, $50 million contract extension in late August. Thuney sidestepped questions about potentially signing an extension before the 2019 season begins.
“I’m just focused on what I control, and I’m just focused on being here,” said Thuney, who also played 99.6 percent of snaps in 2016 and 2017. “I love New England, it’s been awesome here and just trying to improve, get better and get ready for the season. … (I’m) fortunate to have an agent to take care of all that, so I can just focus on being a better football player. So it’s nice to kind of block all that stuff out and just focus on being here and just trying to improve.”