By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Joe Thuney might be the ultimate Patriot.
For three years running, the Patriots have parked Thuney at left guard and gotten extremely good value out of the 2016 third-round pick. This summer has been different for Thuney, who entered his contract year having to prepare for some emergency scenarios.
That included a potential move to left tackle if something went wrong with Isaiah Wynn. But right tackle? That's a new one.
Thuney played the first snaps of his NFL career at right tackle late in the Patriots' 33-3 demolition of the Steelers, replacing the injured Marcus Cannon after he left the game with a shoulder injury. It marked the first time he played the position since the opener of his sophomore year at N.C. State, which turned out to be the only game he ever played at that spot. He played one game at right guard and the rest at left tackle that season before moving to left guard as a junior.
He didn't face the Steelers' big guns on defense with the game winding down in a blowout for the Pats. But Thuney still did his job as well as you can expect for a guy who played right tackle one day six years ago against college kids. The most amazing thing is how gracefully he handled the switch both on and off the field. He talked about it like it's nothing.
"Just trying to do whatever the team asks," Thuney said after the game. "Whatever they ask, I’m always willing to do. Just trying to help the team. Hopefully Marcus gets back healthy. All he best for him, we’re pulling for him."
Here's how Thuney's eight snaps at right tackle played out:
1. Helped a double-team on LB Vince Williams then blocked LB Anthony Chickillo, helping Rex Burkhead pick up six yards.
2. Pushed back DE Tyson Alualu as Burkhead runs right for four yards.
3. Stood up Chickillo long enough to give Tom Brady time to throw (pass went off Julian Edelman's hands).
4. Stayed in front of Chickillo as Brady had to get rid of the ball against a corner blitz by Mike Hilton from the left side (incomplete to Burkhead).
5. Pulled out to the right flat as part of a misdirection pass attempt (incomplete to Edelman).
6. Froze Alualu up the middle, but Sony Michel went for no gain as Bud Dupree slipped by TE Ryan Izzo for the tackle.
7. Cut blocked Alualu enough to slow him down, but Michel got dropped for a five-yard loss as the blocking broke down on the left side.
8. Stood up Chickillo as James White goes for a 2-yard gain.
The theme of Thuney's short time at right tackle is that the drop-off is much bigger at left guard than it is from Cannon to him. The newly acquired Jermaine Eluemunor entered the game as Thuney's replacement at left guard and got flat-out beat by the significantly more talented Cameron Heyward on Michel's five-yard loss.
If Cannon can't go against the Dolphins next Sunday, this likely wouldn't be the configuration. Korey Cunningham, who was inactive Sunday night, would likely slide in at right tackle and move Thuney back to his ideal spot at left guard.
But Sunday was just the latest reason why Thuney embodies the Patriots' core principles. Just go do your job, even if it's a job you haven't done since that one time at college. Thuney handled his like you'd expect the perfect Patriot to handle it.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].