The 2011 draft afforded the Patriots a first round pick in the top 20, specifically number 17. Nate Solder was the pick. The talking heads were clamoring saying that Solder was too lean up top, that he was a project, and it was a bit of reach to take him over other left tackle prospects. That was music to my ears personally, because the so-called draft day experts largely are like movie critics. What ever they like, I know I don’t want to see, and what ever movie they trash, I know is worth my $12 to go see on the big screen.
Patriots fans got a big scare last week when Tom Brady went down after clutching his left knee. In a joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Solder was bull rushed and pushed back towards Brady, and as Solder went to the ground, the bottom of his foot whipped around, hitting Brady on the knee. The result was a bone bruise for Brady.
The fallout was what you would expect. The entire Patriot’s Nation in a panic as the thought that their hall of fame Quarterback might be done for the year with a torn ACL. Las Vegas odds makers shut down all betting on the AFC East division, AFC Champion, and the Superbowl. Market forces don’t lie. The reaction out of Las Vegas says it all regarding the importance of Tom Brady to the success of the New England Patriots.
Nate Solder had to endure interviews about the play, which included direct and inferred references to him potentially be responsible for a devastating blow to the franchise.
Nate Solder has had an outstanding start to his career. In his first year, with Matt Light still anchoring the line as he’d done for a decade at left tackle, Solder got a good amount of playing time at right tackle and as a blocking tight end. He did very well when called upon.
Last season, he was the full-time starter and performed as well as anyone could hope. He handled the best pass rushers one on one and in general kept Brady’s blind side safe and secure.
While reviewing the 2011 draft, there is only one other player who had success at left tackle. That player is Anthony Castonzo of the Indianapolis Colts. He’s been a two-year starter there and performed at a high level. The only other player that appears to have had any significant playing time at left tackle is Joseph Barksdale. He started a couple of games for the Oakland Raiders before being traded to the St Louis Rams.
Nate Solder looks to be the gem of the 2011 draft for his position. So far in the 2013 preseason, he has looked absolutely dominant both in the run game and the passing game. Tom Brady is 36 years old, and appears to be playing as good or better than anytime in his career. Tom Brady has stated he wants to play into his 40’s. Given his passion for the game, his commitment to his craft, and that his skill level is at is peak at age 36, it seems the only thing that will prevent Tom Brady from Quarterbacking the New England Patriots for another 5 years is an injury.
Tom Brady I’m sure sleeps well knowing his blind side is in Nate Solder’s hands. You never hear Solder’s name mentioned, which means he’s doing his job well. He made the news in that practice, and fortunately it was much to do about nothing. In a game situation I don’t think we’ll see Solder put on his backside. In that practice, the players were supposed to take wider angles away from the quarterback, and were supposed to ease up when near the quarterback.
The offensive line looks very solid this season, and in particular, Nate Solder looks like he’s going to quietly develop into a top 3 left tackle in the league. He may already be in that conversation. His run blocking is fun to watch. He puts people on their backs, as does left guard Logan Mankins. His pass blocking is consistent and he keeps Brady clean.
There is a concern at right guard. The patriots top two linemen at the right guard position, Marcus Cannon (also obtained in the 2011 draft) and Dan Connolly, have not been playing due to injury. Will Sviteck has been filling in. His natural position is at tackle, but he’s started at right guard in the first two preseason games. He looked strong in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. However, in the Tampa Bay game, he was just average. He wasn’t able to drive people off the ball on run plays, and he got pushed back too far on several pass plays.
Overall however, it looks like Tom Brady will be well protected this season, and we’ll probably not near from Nate Solder again as he quietly and steadily does his job protecting Tom Terrific.