Nate Solder (Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE)
Tom Brady has had Matt Light protecting his blind side for years. This year Light is a free agent and the Patriots may decide a youth movement is in order. Even if first round pick Nate Solder doesn't play left tackle, he can still fill at right tackle if the Patriots want him there in place of Nick Kaczur.
The Patriots entered Thursday night's first round of the 2011
NFL Draft with as much flexibility as any team. Bill Belichick
& Co. left the prime-time affair with a potential new franchise
left tackle while swapping its other first-round pick for a
first-rounder in 2012 as well as an additional second-round pick in
this year's selection process.
Despite plenty of trade rumors that the team might
be looking to move up as high as the No. 6 overall pick in search of an
impact pass rusher, Belichick ending up staying put at No. 17 and
taking Colorado left tackle Nate Solder. Solder is a 6-8, 315-pound
former tight end with the size, length and athleticism to be a
prototypical blind-side protector for Tom Brady.
The pick fills a clear need for New England as Pro
Bowl left tackle Matt Light, who's guarded Brady's back since being
drafted by the Patriots in the second round in 2001, is set to become
an unrestricted free agent and could very well have already played his
last game in Foxborough.
Belichick called Solder a player the team "had
been on for a long time." Though New England might have the option of
moving versatile third-year tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the left side,
Belichick said the 2010 second-team All-Pro will remain on the right
side while Solder stays at his natural left tackle spot. Belichick also
praised Solder's work habits when talking about his newest player.
Solder said he had "fairly limited" contact with
the Patriots before New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia
traveled to Colorado last Monday for a last-minute workout. Prior to
that, a visit Solder had scheduled with New England had been canceled.
is a free agent and could still return for another season (or two)
But he enjoyed his time with Scarnecchia and now
looks forward to working with the well respected line coach on a
"He's an unbelievable coach, one of the best in
the NFL and that was completely obvious when I met with him," Solder
said. "And I look forward to the opportunity to play with him."
Asked if there was a tackle in the NFL after whom
he models his game, Solder already sounded like a veteran Patriots
lineman in his response.
"I just play my game and I'm going to do what
coach Scarnecchia tells me to. That's who I'm going to model my game
after," Solder said.
And what does he think about potentially
protecting the blind side of the reigning NFL MVP and one of the game's
top stars in Brady?
"You know, I think Tom Brady is a great
quarterback and I think all my teammates are great players and I'm
looking forward to the privilege of playing for the Patriots," Solder
said. "I think it's a fantastic organization. I like the way that they
do things and I'm honored that they picked me."
After the Solder selection, Belichick got back to
his common trading ways by sending his team's 28th pick to the Saints
in exchange for the 56th pick in this year's draft and New Orleans' No.
1 pick in 2012.
With that trade the Patriots added more
flexibility to the rest of their 2011 draft -- with eight picks
remaining over the final two days including three in the second round
and two in the third - while also adding to next year's stockpile of
picks that had entered the day at a very unBelichickian five selections.
So thanks to the flexibility he built in previous
years, Belichick left the first day of the draft with a potential
franchise left tackle, more picks and flexibility for the rest of the
selection process and a head start on building currency for 2012. All
in a draft day's work in New England.
2011 Draft Class
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