FOXBOROUGH — Whenever the greatest coach of all-time calls a player one of the best on the team everyone ought to pay attention, and that’s exactly what happened with left guard Joe Thuney.
“Joe’s done a great job for us. He’s one of our best players, one of our most consistent players,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said.
This season, Thuney has built on a solid 2017 campaign to elevate his game to Pro Bowl caliber.
Through the first 12 weeks, Thuney is ninth among guards with a 72.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus and his pass blocking grade has improved dramatically.
After allowing five sacks and receiving a 74.1 pass blocking grade a year ago, Thuney hasn’t allowed a sack through 11 games this season and has an 88.0 grade on passing downs (third among guards).
Thuney is also the only player on the team to be in on 100 percent of the Patriots’ snaps on either side of the ball.
“It’s a long season. Trying not to get too high or too low,” Thuney said when asked about Belichick’s high praise. “Keep working. Just trying to keep working and there’s always room to improve and get better. Obviously, it’s cool to hear, but it’s a long season, and you gotta keep working to get better.”
A three-year starter at NC State, the Patriots selected the versatile Thuney in the third round of the 2016 draft.
In college, Thuney lined up at all five spots on the Wolfpack offensive line at one point or another but finished his career as a left tackle his senior year.
Although Thuney, now in his third season in the NFL, has fit in seamlessly at left guard (he’s started every game of his career), the 26-year-old didn’t know where he’d play in the pros after constantly moving around the line in college.
“I didn’t really have too much of an idea,” Thuney said at his locker on Friday. “I knew I wasn’t the tallest guy in the world, but wherever I could help a team out. I was willing to play whatever.”
As you’d expect for a player with a tackle background, Thuney was one of the best athletes at his position at the 2016 scouting combine finishing in the 98th percentile in the 40-yard dash (4.95 seconds), the 91st percentile in the broad jump (110”) and the 88th percentile in the three-cone drill (7.47 seconds).
Due to that athleticism, Thuney is a perfect fit on the interior for the Patriots, who frequently ask their linemen to play in space on screens and in the run game.
Plus, he has rare foot speed and length for a guard which explains his skill as a pass blocker.
“Certainly Shaq [Mason] and Joe [Thuney] both do a real good job of that, they both run well and have good balance and make good decisions. To be able to get out on screens and to pull and to reach block and play in space and that type of thing, those guys have been able to do that,” Belichick said of his two starting guards.
As Belichick said, the Patriots have a pair of terrific guards on the interior of the offensive line with both Thuney (ninth) and right guard Shaq Mason (first) ranking in the top ten of Pro Football Focus’ grading at the position.
And Thuney told me that communicating with Mason over the years has helped him immensely during his time with the Patriots.
“We are always talking,” Thuney said. “In the stadium, our lockers are next to each other. We are always talking in meetings and on the field during games. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other, asking how we approach certain things. We talk a lot. It’s a really good relationship.”
In general, Thuney has tried to improve his communication saying that’s one area that’s he has focused on this season.
“Being more communicative because my rookie year Nate [Solder] helped a lot with the communication. Just trying to talk more and communicate more. I think everyone’s talking, communicating, sharing throughout. Practice, games, plays all the time. Everyone’s trying to be on the same page,” he said.
From a technique standpoint, the only thing holding Thuney back from being an elite pass protector was some issues with handling power, but he has made strides in that area shoring up his main weakness.
Thuney has also been a significant part of a resurgent running game featuring rookie running back Sony Michel.
Name a better O line then the patriots…… I’ll wait 😂😂😂😂 #Gopats
— Sony Michel (@Flyguy2stackz) November 25, 2018
Following the Patriots’ win over the Jets last week, Michel raved about the performance of his offensive line saying, “believe it or not, they should be the ones talking to you guys. Without them, there wouldn’t be any rushing lanes.”
In response to his running backs praise Thuney said, “Sony’s been doing really well. He’s so explosive, and he makes our blocks look good. He has such good vision, and it’s fun to block for him. It’s fun to block for all the backs. We got a great backfield, and we are just trying to do our job.”
Although the Patriots’ offensive line has made it look easy at times this season, Thuney said the hardest part about playing in the NFL is staying the course.
“Taking it one play at a time. Not getting too upset or too high after a good play or a good game. It’s a long season. Just trying to stay even-keeled. You can only deal with the present; you can’t change the past. You just try to make the best of that moment,” he answered.
In many ways, Thuney’s approach is reflective of the entire team’s philosphy every year.
After all, the Patriots started the season 1-2, but they’ve made the best of each moment since, and are 7-1 in their last eight games to put themselves at the top of the AFC playoff picture.
And as Belichick’s recent draft success has come under fire, Thuney, who’s still on his rookie deal, is one example of a bullseye for the Patriots in that department.
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