Solder Solidifies The Blind Side

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.

Light vs San Diego
Light is a free agent and could still return for another season (or two)
   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.

   But he enjoyed his time with Scarnecchia and now looks forward to working with the well respected line coach on a full-time basis.

   "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.

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