Patriots' offensive linemen are in charge of keeping Tom Brady safe Print
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Wednesday, 30 January 2008 23:34
NFL Headline News

 SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -They're big, brawny and bearded - and they're the guys whose duty is to keep Tom Brady safe from bloodthirsty opponents looking to pound him into the turf.
``Our job is to make sure he doesn't get dirty,'' right guard Stephen Neal said with a grin Wednesday.
The New England Patriots' offensive linemen are a fun-loving bunch and a major reason for the team's fourth Super Bowl appearance in seven years.
``Football is a team sport, but there's no glory in (playing) offensive line,'' Brady said. ``I don't know if you're born one day and you go, 'I hope I'm an offensive lineman one day in the Super Bowl.' It's just a dirty job. Someone's got to do it and I think we've got five guys who relish that opportunity.''
Lucky for Brady, they do their jobs well. He's been sacked a career-low 24 times this season playing behind the hefty Neal (6-foot-4, 305 pounds), left tackle Matt Light (6-4, 305), left guard Logan Mankins (6-4, 310), center Dan Koppen (6-2, 296) and right tackle Nick Kaczur (6-4, 315).
Brady's bunch has also prevented its quarterback from being sacked five times.
``I like those games,'' Brady said. ``I like when I don't get touched. Hopefully, there's one of those this Sunday.''
That's when the Patriots go up against the New York Giants' top-ranked pass rush. Even with Brady nursing a highly publicized sprained right ankle, the offensive line won't stray too far from its usual game plan.
``We don't want to let them get to him anyway,'' Kaczur said. ``That's never changed. It's always definitely a big focus for us - never letting them get to him. We're definitely in for a handful with these guys and it'll be a challenge.''
The Giants have 56 sacks, including the playoffs, led by Osi Umenyiora's 13 and 10 each by Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck.
``Even when you don't sack him, we can't let them sit back and pick us apart,'' Tuck said. ``We have to get pressure in their face. We have to knock it down, we have to keep him uneasy in the pocket.''
And that's where Brady's bodyguards come in.
``They're physical. They're athletic. They're smart, too,'' said Koppen, a first-time Pro Bowler. ``When you have Strahan and Osi off the edge, they have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things.''
In the teams' last meeting in Week 17 - a 38-35 victory by New England - Brady was sacked just once and threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns.
``There were times where we hit him in that last game and he was still making great passes,'' Tuck said. ``If we don't get any pressure on him, we stand no chance.''
With help from their linemen, the Patriots set NFL records for points scored and total touchdowns, while Brady broke the league mark for TD passes and Randy Moss set the record for scoring receptions.
``They're a great group,'' Brady said. ``They're a fun group and they've been healthy and together all season.''
Light is the veteran of the bunch, a two-time Pro Bowler who has been with the Patriots since 2001. He's also the designated ringleader.
``He thinks that he's a comedian, but he does a good job at it, too,'' said Mankins, selected for his first Pro Bowl this season. ``He's always pulling pranks on people. He's always playing pranks on (backup lineman) Russ Hochstein, really. Just things like stealing his car. We hide his car, pour cologne all over him, just stuff like that.''
Mankins has received his fair share of face time this week, mostly because of what's on his face. While all five starting linemen have some sort of facial hair going on, including Neal's Fu Manchu, Mankins has a big, bushy Grizzly Adams-like beard that extends way past his chin.
``Logan's is ridiculous,'' Brady said with a laugh. ``And when he goes to Hawaii (Pro Bowl) and shaves his face, it's going to look terrible. Not that it can look any worse than it looks right now.''
Mankins has grown the beard since the beginning of the season, but plans to shave it after Sunday's game.
``We haven't lost,'' he said, ``so I haven't shaved.''
And most of the other linemen haven't reached for razors lately, either, in a show unity.
``We're pretty cohesive,'' Kaczur said. ``And it's not only on the field. If you're cohesive off the field, it just makes it that easier on it.''
It's an interesting contrast when New England's offense takes the field. There's the clean-cut, dimple-chinned quarterback standing behind guys who look more like lumberjacks than football players.
``There's endless amounts of things we can crack on him about, but in turn, we're overweight and disgusting-looking, so there's plenty for him to take a shot at us with,'' Light said. ``When we do have a half-second in between all that seriousness, we take shots at each other and end up joking around and having a lot of fun together.''
Especially with all the winning they've done.
``Everyone on our line has been here for a few years,'' Koppen said. ``They know the guys around them. They know what to expect from each other. There's a lot of trust there. We definitely have to be on the top of our game for this game.''
 

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