The New England Patriots are currently on their bye but will return to work later today, starting preparations for their week 10 matchup on the road against the Denver Broncos. The Broncos, despite getting blown out 51-23 by the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, feature one of the league's most talented defenses and New England's offense needs to be on the top of its game to hang points on it.
The venture starts up front: The Patriots' offensive line, which has struggled at times over the first half of the season, will be asked to block against star defender Von Miller and company. A player to watch on New England's side of the ball will therefore naturally be quarterback Tom Brady's blindside protector, left tackle and Colorado native Nate Solder.
On a line that has been up and down this year, Solder has arguably been the most up-and-down player. As of late, however, the 29-year old has improved his play according to his position coach, Dante Scarnecchia. “He’s playing really well over the last two weeks,” Scarnecchia told ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss recently. “He’s done some things with his pass-protection stuff that has helped him improve.”
Scarnecchia, an offensive line guru and owner of four Super Bowl rings, has worked with Solder since the former tight end entered the NFL as a first round draft pick in 2011 (the exceptions being 2014 and 2015). The 69-year old apparently likes how his pupil developed over the course of the season: “On the punch, his hand use is much more violent, much more physical and less reactive/more proactive.”
“Those things have helped him a great deal. He started really emphasizing that two weeks ago at practice and carried it through the next game and then last week,” Scarnecchia noted. A look at the numbers reflects how Solder has improved certain areas of his game: In weeks one to six, the veteran surrendered a combined three sacks (0.5 per game), six hits (1.0 per game) and 14 hurries (2.3 per game).
Over the last two weeks, against the New York Jets' and Los Angeles Chargers' talented defensive fronts, Solder did not allow a single sack. And while the number of hits per game did not change and the hurries actually went up to 4.0 a contest, Solder was able to keep his negative plays at a minimum – which is not a surprise if you ask his coach: “I think this guy is really driven to be a good football player,” Scarnecchia said.
The veteran coach added that Solder has worked on the parts and intricacies that can be fixed. “He’s working hard to improve, and that’s all I can really ask from him,” Scarnecchia said. The work is slowly paying off: Solder, who has been his usual reliable self as a run blocker all year long, improved his pass protection and bounced back from a rocky start to the season. Scarnecchia's final assessment is therefore not a surprising one: “I love the kid.”