|After just eight days with the Patriots, veteran Brian Waters found himself playing right guard against the Dolphins. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)|
Right man to stand guard
Patriots’ Waters is holding the line
FOXBOROUGH - Word spread among the members of the Chiefs offensive line in 2000 that one of the team’s offseason additions could be joining them. They just didn’t know who he was.
The Chiefs had signed 23-year-old Brian Waters, an undrafted free agent out of North Texas with a résumé that did everything but pin down his position. He played tight end for three years in college and moved to the defensive line his senior season.
When Waters arrived for training camp with the Chiefs, he wasn’t much of a presence. He took time to analyze questions and was brief in his answers.
“He was real quiet,’’ said former Chiefs guard Will Shields. “We weren’t sure if he was a guard or if he would be a fullback or what position he was going to play. He was just a quiet, reserved young guy, which is a little different from what he’s grown to be.’’
The studious part of Waters’s personality hasn’t changed much. Since the day the Patriots signed Waters after 11 seasons with Kansas City, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he has rarely seen the now 34-year-old offensive lineman without his playbook. When Waters came aboard Sept. 4, he was an established guard and a four-time Pro Bowl selection with a little experience in a system similar to the Patriots’.
His aggressive approach reminded many of a throwback, physical and gritty. He was described as the right-guard version of left guard Logan Mankins.
In two games, Waters has impressed with his ability to slip into the Patriots’ line and make plays. After just eight days with the team, he was rotating in at right guard in the opener against the Dolphins, and a week later was starting there against the Chargers.
The transition hasn’t been seamless, but Belichick said Waters has worked with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and has studied the playbook relentlessly. The results have come on the field.
“[Waters] has come in here, he’s really worked hard, learned all the things that he can in this time about our offensive system and communication and process of calling plays and changing them,’’ Belichick said. “Every time I go by his locker or go by him in the cafeteria, he has a book open, studying his game plan, studying his notebook, very professional, watched a lot of film. I’ve really been impressed with not only the way he’s performed, but just the way he’s gone about his job.’’
Waters chuckles when he hears a player described him as “an old-school offensive lineman.’’ He said the foundation for that goes back to his days in Kansas City playing with Shields and Willie Roaf.
“Two really good football players . . . hopefully both of them will be Hall of Famers this year,’’ Waters said. “Both of those guys really were the guys who set the tone for me in terms of learning how to play the position.’’
Shields played 14 seasons in Kansas City before retiring in 2007; Roaf played 13 years (the last four with the Chiefs), primarily at left tackle, before calling it quits in 2006. When they started playing beside each other, Roaf noticed Waters’s strength.
On game days, Waters, then a left guard, was so eager to play “all he wanted to do was get dressed, go out there and scrap,’’ Roaf said.
Shields said Waters provided a dynamic element to the line. “He was really physical and could get a lot of things done and he could just use that brute force to make it happen,’’ Shields said.
Roaf tuned in to the Patriots’ season opener, eager to see his former teammate. He wasn’t surprised. What started as a rotation at right guard quickly changed when center Dan Koppen went down with a broken fibula. Dan Connolly shifted to center, and Waters took over at right guard.
“I just saw him getting stronger as the game went on,’’ Roaf said. “I have a lot of respect for that offensive line with guys like [Matt Light] and [Mankins] because all those guys play hard, and I knew with Brian he would be a key acquisition. I know they have [Chad Ochocinco] and [Albert Haynesworth], but I think the key acquisition on that team will be Brian.’’
Moving from left guard to right guard may seem simple, but it isn’t, according to Shields. The quick adjustment made by Waters gained the respect of quarterback Tom Brady.
“He had some familiarity with our system through what Charlie [Weis] was running last year in KC, but there are a lot of things that are quite a bit different as well,’’ said Brady. “So, I think his ability to really integrate himself into what we’re doing to get on the same page as the other group of linemen and their communication and their calls . . . he’s teaching other guys the plays now. He’s just that kind of guy.’’
Waters said working with a motivating and demanding coach such as Scarnecchia has also helped. Waters said it is too early to assess his performance; he’ll wait until the end of the season.
“This is one of the better offensive lines, but it’s hard to do,’’ Waters said. “Everybody has strengths and weaknesses across the league in different years. I think at the end of the day you’ll be able to find out what type of group we are . . . because definitely everything starts up front on both sides of the ball.’’