The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.
Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with offensive tackle Nate Solder.
Name: Nate Solder
Position: Offensive tackle
Jersey number: 77
Size: 6’8, 325 lbs.
2015 review: Prior to the 2015 season, Solder was voted a team captain for the first time in his NFL career. The veteran began the year as the Patriots’ starting left tackle and played 89.9% of the team’s offensive snaps over the first three weeks.
However, Solder had to leave New England’s fourth game of the year – which he also started – with what was initially declared an elbow injury. After further examination it was found out that Solder had torn his right biceps; an injury, that forced the team to place him on season-ending injured reserve.
On the year, Solder appeared in and started four games. Overall, his performance was shaky as both a pass protector – he gave up 16 total pressures (3 sacks, 3 hits, 10 hurries) – and run blocker.
2016 preview: After missing OTAs and minicamp with what later turned out to be a calf injury, Solder is back on the practice field for training camp – and to resume his starting left tackle position. Unless the injury bug bites him again, he is projected to play the season as Tom Brady’s and Jimmy Garoppolo’s blindside protector.
The major questions to be answered the next few weeks are therefore not related to Solder’s role on the team – he is a roster lock – but rather to his performance. After all, the 28-year old struggled in both 2014 (until Dan Connolly settled in as the left guard) and 2015. Coincidentally, those were the two seasons Dave DeGuglielmo was coaching the offensive line; and shuffling around its pieces on a relatively consistent basis.
With Dante Scarnecchia returning, the offensive line-roulette seems to be over and Solder, consequently, will have a steady left guard playing beside him. How much this and Scarnecchia’s return in general helps Solder righten the ship remains to be seen. But if the past is any indicator, New England’s left tackle might very well be able to improve under the veteran coach’s watchful eye.
Nate Solder is a talented left tackle. Unfortunately, this talent was neither fully on display in 2014 and 2015. With more stability projected to come to the offensive line thanks to Dante Scarnecchia’s return, Solder is put in a solid position to prove that the last two seasons were an outlier – and that he is, as Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard recently stated, a top 10 offensive tackle.