New England Patriots Training Camp Battles: Left Tackle

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04: Akiem Hicks
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04: Akiem Hicks /

The New England Patriots have a few training camp battles to watch. Arguably the most important will be at left tackle.

The New England Patriots are finally at the end of the offseason and the start of training camp kicking off in Foxboro, MA is right around the corner. Although there are no joint practices scheduled this summer, competition is coming soon as the Patriots are less than a month from their first preseason game.

The players and fans are anxious to move on from the disappointing finish to the 2017 season (losing to Philadelphia in Super Bowl 52) and the tumultuous offseason with questions regarding quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski’s buy-in for 2018 and beyond.

With training camp commencing this week, it’s time to look at the six top training camp battles that will be on display when the Patriots get back on the practice field this week. The series kicks-off with a look at the battle brewing at left tackle:

Left Tackle:

Thirty year old Nate Solder, who struggled much of the past three seasons after such a promising start to his career, is in New Jersey with the New York Giants. While the Patriots made a strong offer to keep him in New England, the Giants outbid the Texans and Browns and made Solder the highest paid tackle in the NFL with a $62 million contract worth $15.5 million per season (per

Solder has been a solid–if unspectacular–blocker for Brady’s blind side since replacing Matt Light in 2012. While one could argue he is better than Russell Okung ($13.25 million per season), Eric Fisher ($12 million per season), Matt Kalil ($11.1 million per season), few would argue he is better than Trent Williams ($13.2 million per season), Tyron Smith ($12.2 million per season), Duane Brown ($8.9 million per season) and David Bakhtiari ($12 million per season).

Of course, with Bill Belichick running the show, a position of such importance is not going to be left without a Plan “B” (or Plan “C” or “D” for that matter). For the Patriots, there are a number of options at left tackle even after their surprise release of 2017 third round draft pick Antonio Garcia this offseason.

Plan “A”

The Patriots spent their initial first round draft pick on a dominant left tackle from an SEC powerhouse (Georgia). According to Pro Football Focus, Georgia left tackle Isaiah Wynn allowed just five pressures in 15 games (while higher first round draft picks Mike McGlinchey and Kolton Miller both allowed three times as many pressures).

Wynn is short (six-foot-two) but he has long arms, excellent mobility and footwork, patience and power (313 pounds) and patience in his blocking style allowing him to keep his balance and counter-attack pass rushers’ moves. Wynn may not be ready to start at left tackle as a rookie (as Light and Solder were at right tackle as rookies), but he should be the long-term plan at the position.

Plan “B”

Once San Francisco drafted McGlinchey with their first round draft pick, the Patriots scooped up Trent Brown in exchange for moving down 48 spots from the third round to the fourth round. Brown stands out due to his size (six-foot-eight and 355 pounds) and ability to play at left tackle and right tackle.

Brown missed the last six games of 2017 in San Francisco due to shoulder surgery and is unlikely to play at right tackle with 2016 second-team All-Pro Marcus Cannon back from ankle injury which caused him to miss the entire second half of last season with an ankle injury. Brown is an excellent pass blocker and actually was ranked higher than Solder by Pro Football Focus last season.

Plan “C”

New England brought in free agents Matt Tobin and Ulrick John to add depth to the tackle position and re-signed veteran LaAdrian Waddle on a one-year, $1.5 million contract. They also have tackle Cole Croston who the front office tellingly kept on the active roster in 2017 rather than expose him to waivers trying to get him through to the practice squad.

Crosten is a developmental plan at tackle and John has been with four organizations since being a seventh round draft pick in 2014. Tobin was in Seattle last season and is a University of Iowa alumni which makes him an intriguing player in New England. He is a solid back-up swing tackle and should be in the mix for a roster spot.

Plan “D”

Waddle is a dark horse candidate as he is likely to be the primary back-up at right tackle where he has proven to be more effective. Injuries kept Waddle from building on his strong play in 2017 against Von Miller, Khalil Mack and J.J. Watt. However, he is a solid contributor and should have a chance to throw his hat into the ring as Plan “D” at left tackle.

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Final Word:

Regardless of who ends up winning the positional battle, there are a number of solid choices entirely capable of replacing Solder and possibly even outplaying him in 2018.

My money is on Wynn to compete to start at guard in 2018 and be back in the battle for a starting role in 2019 at left tackle. While Croston or Waddle would make a great story, Brown has the size, experience and ability to start at left tackle in 2018. While he may not have been the fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense in San Francisco, he is a perfect fit for left tackle in New England.

Look for Trent Brown to be starting at left tackle against Houston on opening day on September ninth.