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Draft day memories: It was a ‘comfortable and relaxing’ start for Nate Solder

04.23.12 at 4:39 pm ET
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With the NFL draft set for this week, we’€™re taking a look back at some draft day memories with some of the current Patriots. First up, tackle Nate Solder, who was New England’€™s first pick in the 2011 draft.

While many of last year’s top picks in the NFL draft spent the first night of the event at Radio City Music Hall, Nate Solder was roughly 2,000 miles away at a far less glamorous locale — Peri & Ed’s Mountain Hideaway in Leadville, Colo.

His parents’€™ bed and breakfast (described on Trip Advisor as ‘€œcomfortable and relaxing’€) was the first place where he found out he was a member of the New England Patriots.

‘€œIt’s an exciting time. I was at home, I remember, and I had all my family there,’€ he said, reflecting on that night a year ago where he started his NFL journey. ‘€œLike I said, I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I just hoped — I kept my mind off what the TV was saying, so I just kind of hoped that I ended up in a good program, and I was just lucky enough to end up [with the Patriots].’€

Solder didn’t get a sense that the Patriots were interested until a few days before the draft when he was put through his paces by New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia in a private workout.

‘€œI wasn’€™t surprised because people say be prepared for anything,’€ Solder said. ‘€œI was kind of prepared for odd things like that. I remember that meeting and I thought he was an exceptional coach.’€

The 17th overall selection, the Colorado product appeared in all 19 of the Patriots’€™ games (16 regular season, three postseason), starting 15, including 13 at right tackle and two as part of a three tight-end alignment. He led all Patriots’ rookies in total snaps played, and became an integral part of the New England offensive line in his first season in the league.

But he certainly won’t forget the first steps of what is a yearlong journey.

‘€œI remember coming into camp, I didn’€™t know what direction the field was. I didn’€™t know where the locker room was. I didn’€™t know anything,’€ Solder said. ‘€œJust to have those things under my belt [now] will be nice.’€

Read More: Dante Scarnecchia, draft day memories, Nate Solder,

WEEI.com Monday Pats Chat, pre-draft edition

04.23.12 at 8:20 am ET
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Because workplace productivity is overrated, join WEEI.com Patriots writer Christopher Price Monday at noon to talk about the upcoming NFL draft and what the Patriots might do. Like you’ve got something better to do

WEEI.com Pre-Draft Pats Chat

Read More: 2012 NFL Draft,

NFL Draft Top 10: Players who could be late fallers

04.22.12 at 11:21 pm ET
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With the NFL draft this week, teams are finalizing their draft preparations, and there’s now a clearer picture of how this year’s draft will likely unfold. Each year, though, the draft sees once-highly touted players linger on the board, whether it’s due to injury concerns or teams simply valuing other players higher. Here are 10 players we expect to be drafted much later than expected.

1. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State Immediately after the season, Burfict looked like a talented, productive four-year starter with a mean streak that was compared to Ray Lewis. Now, crummy combine numbers, a bad attitude and the fact that not one NFL team has asked him to visit have completely flipped the book on Burfict, who has been referred to as “not-draftable.” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who had Burfict going at No. 30 to the Ravens back in January, now also suggests that Burfict could go undrafted completely.

2. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina As a sophomore, Jeffery pulled down 88 receptions for 1517 yards and seemed to be a lock for a top-15 pick in the 2012 draft. However, this past year has seen his stock plummet to a second-rounder at best, due to a regressing junior season and concerns over his top-end speed and weight. While his poor stats could be attributed to a quagmire at the South Carolina quarterback position and his performances at the combine and the South Carolina pro day answered questions about his weight and speed, respectively, the tentativeness that NFL GMs could have towards drafting Jeffery can be summed up in one picture. (He’s the one of the left.)

3. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State — NFL teams have 28 reason to pass on Weeden. After he was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2002 MLB draft, Weeden played a few years of A-ball before “retiring” in 2006 and giving football another shot in 2007. Now, Weeden will turn 30 during the first half of the 2013 season, leaving little room for error for whatever team takes him. As of now, most mock drafts have Weeden going in the second round. If a team is going to jump on Weeden, it’s going to be a team who be willing to plug him in early and rate him much higher than comparative prospects, like Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler.

4. Jared Crick, DL, Nebraska Had he declared for the draft last year, Crick likely would’ve ended up as late first-round pick or early second-rounder at worst. Fast forward to this year: Crick missed almost all of the 2011 season with a torn pectoral muscle, has looked lackluster in pre-draft workouts and his size leaves questions as to where he’ll fit in an NFL defense. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Crick has a great skill set inside, but only projects well as a 3-4 defensive end or a very light 4-3 tackle. If it was just the size, Crick is a talented enough player to overcome the issues. However, the free fall of at-one-time projected No. 1 overall pick DeQuan Bowers over the state of his knees shows just how much injury concerns can scare off NFL teams. A similar fate could befall Crick.

5. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North AlabamaGoing into pre-draft workouts, many scouts looked at Jenkins as one of, if not the most talented cornerbacks in the draft. He still might be. However, Jenkins, who was kicked off of Florida’s football team after multiple infractions, has spent the entire draft process trying to shake his bad image, but with mixed results. It also doesn’t help that other corner prospects such as Stephon Gilmore and Josh Robinson have steadily moved up boards throughout the offseason. Jenkins’ stock has already taken a hit, but the fact that so many other cornerbacks have risen may be his undoing on draft day.

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Read More: 2012 NFL Draft,

Five players who are on the hot seat this offseason

04.21.12 at 12:51 pm ET
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On the heels of our post last week that detailed six players who are still in limbo as we near the midway point of the offseason — and keeping in mind that the offseason workout programs started this past week at Gillette Stadium — here are five Patriots who need a good offseason to help solidify their status before training camp rolls around in July.

Defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham Bill Belichick fell in love with Cunningham as a collegian, but the Florida product has been underwhelming in his first two seasons in the NFL. There were occasional flashes as a rookie — he had 35 tackles and a sack in 15 games in 2010. But 2011 was forgettable for the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder, as he had just one tackle and spent most of the year on special teams. By the time he was placed on injured reserve in December with a hamstring problem, it marked the end of a disappointing year. He’€™s just 23, but he’€™ll likely find himself in a fight for a job come July. The former second-round pick is entering the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Patriots as a rookie.

Defensive lineman Ron Brace The 25-year-old has been plagued by injury and inconsistency in his relatively short career in the NFL. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up several veteran defensive linemen before the start of the 2011 season, he showed some flashes last season, but never really managed to break through, playing just 62 snaps all year, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-3, 330-pounder is entering the final year of a four-year deal he signed as a rookie.

Safety Sergio Brown The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Brown had issues, mostly in coverage, for a bulk of the 2011 season. (He had three crippling pass interference calls last year, and as a result, was assessed more penalty yardage — 86 — than anyone on the team.) After starting the year as a regular part of the rotation, he slipped down the depth chart, and didn’€™t play a single snap after Week 16 of the regular-season. Despite the fact that the Patriots picked up safety Steve Gregory, he could be helped by the fact that the safety market (in free agency and the draft) is pretty bad. A former undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame, the 23-year-old is entering the third year of a four-year contract he signed as a rookie.

Running back Shane Vereen The 23-year-old Cal product was slowed by a hamstring early on, and by the time he got fully healthy, the 5-foot-9, 205-pounder was buried so deep on the depth chart it was essentially a lost year when it came to playing time. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis departing as a free agent, he should get some opportunities to prove himself over the summer. (His opportunities in 2012 could be tied to whether or not the Patriots pick up a veteran free-agent running back: New England reportedly kicked the tires on Tim Hightower, Ryan Grant and Joseph Addai this past week.)

Safety Josh Barrett The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Barrett is a relatively young safety who had four starts last season and was starting to play better, but fell out of favor as the year went on last season. (He went on injured reserve with a calf injury in November, and was dogged with a thumb injury along the way as well.) With some moving parts in the secondary — including the arrival of Gregory and the appearance of Devin McCourty as a part-time safety — Barrett needs a good offseason and to prove that he’€™s healthy in order to reclaim his spot in the defensive back rotation. This year marks the last season of a two-year contract the 27-year-old signed last February.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham

Report: Patriots host Ryan Grant, Tim Hightower on visits

04.20.12 at 4:29 pm ET
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Two more names who could be potential replacements for running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis made their way through Foxboro on Friday, as the Patriots hosted free agents Ryan Grant and Tim Hightower on visits, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

The 29-year-old Grant spent the last five years with the Packers, and had impressive numbers in his first three years, posting a pair of back-to-back 1,200-yard plus seasons (1,203 in 2008 and 1,253 in 2009) before an ankle injury slowed him in 2010 (45 yards) and 2011 (559 yards on 134 carries). The 6-foot-1, 222-pounder was an undrafted free agent of Notre Dame.

Hightower is another back who was a relatively unregarded prospect (a 2008 fifth-round pick out of Richmond) who would go on to rush for a career-high 736 yards in 2010 with the Cardinals. He was traded to Washington after last year’s lockout, and managed just 321 yards for the Redskins. In his career, he has 2,054 yards on 523 carries, to go along with 24 rushing touchdowns. One thing in his favor is that, at least historically, Hightower has been a relatively dependable presence in the passing game out of the backfield — in four seasons, he has 879 receiving yards, including 428 for the Cards in 2009.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Ryan Grant, Tim Hightower,

Offseason a weighty issue for Nate Solder

04.19.12 at 4:18 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Prior to Nate Solder‘€™s Q&A with reporters on Thursday afternoon, stools were offered up to some members of the media — namely cameramen — who might have wanted a better view of the Patriots’€™ offensive lineman. Solder joked about whether or not he’€™d need one for the session.

‘€œMaybe a hole to stand in,’€ the 6-foot-8 tackle quipped.

This was stated several times over the course of his rookie season, but it bears repeating: Solder is a big dude. One of the tallest players in the history of the franchise, the Colorado product, who now weighs ‘€œabout 310 pounds’€ by his estimation, said adding some bulk to his frame is one of his goals when it comes to preparing for a second season in the NFL.

‘€œI’€™d like to get bigger, stronger — maybe taller,’€ said Solder with a laugh, before adding that he could see himself around 320 or 330 pounds. ‘€œUnderstand the playbook better — going into my second year, I want to continue to progress and get better.’€

He said Thursday he’€™s always struggled to gain weight — hence the need for four or five meals a day.

‘€œIt’€™s not hard to gain a lot of weight that’€™s not going to help you play football,’€ explained Solder in between workouts at Gillette Stadium. ‘€œSo when I say it’€™s hard to gain weight, it’€™s hard because it takes a lot in the weight room. You’€™ve got to be lifting hard because you want to gain muscle and you want to stay fast, you want to stay flexible and those sorts of things, too.

‘€œI think a lot of it comes down to your diet, how you’€™re eating. I’€™m just eating four or five meals a day, protein shakes in between. So that’€™s sort of what goes into it.’€

Solder, who played 1,044 offensive snaps last season (according to Pro Football Focus, tops among any of New England’€™s rookies last year), played both right and left tackle last season. During the regular season, he started 11 games at right tackle and one at left tackle, and registered three more starts at right tackle in the postseason.

He could be in for even more work in 2012 if veteran left tackle Matt Light decides to retire. Asked Thursday if he sees his role potentially changing if Light does decide to call it a career, Solder said he’€™s ready for pretty much anything.

‘€œI don’€™t know what my role is going to be,’€ Solder said when asked about Light and his future. ‘€œRight now, my mindset is to get better. There’€™s a lot I have to improve on, and that’€™s what I’€™m going to work on right now and improve on.’€

Because of that experience, Solder figures to have more on his plate going forward if Light does decide to retire. On Thursday during a break from workouts at Gillette Stadium, he was effusive in his praise of Light, saying the former All-Pro has played a large role in his professional development.

‘€œMatt’€™s been great. He helps me to continue to develop,’€ Solder said. ‘€œHe knows a lot about the game. He has a ton of experience. It’€™s been really good having him here.’€

Solder said there’€™s a big difference between where he is right now and where he was at this time last year, both physically and mentally.

‘€œIt’€™s much different. This time last year, I didn’€™t know where I was going to be. I didn’€™t know how to train. I hadn’€™t played a single snap in an NFL game. I didn’€™t know who any of my teammates were going to be,’€ he said. ‘€œNow, there’€™s some things that are kind of answered, and places I can focus my energy on some of the things I can improve on.

‘€œLooking back, it flew by, but I think when you’€™re in the middle of it, you’€™re swimming to stay afloat at times.’€

Here are a few other highlights from the Q&A:
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Read More: Matt Light, Nate Solder,

Steve Gregory happy to be back on the East Coast

04.19.12 at 11:39 am ET
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FOXBORO — Steve Gregory is a smart guy.

Faced with the possibility of being exposed as a Jets fan on Thursday — he was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New York — the New York native stopped and smiled.

‘€œI wasn’€™t really a fan of any team in particular,’€ he said when asked about his formative years during a break between workouts at Gillette Stadium on Thursday. ‘€œI follow players more. But a bunch of my buddies had Jets season tickets, so we used to go to the games a lot. I wasn’€™t really a fan of a team. I’€™m a New England Patriot fan.’€

The Patriots signed the New York native and Syracuse University product to a three-year deal last month, and now, he says he feels comfortable in blue and white.

‘€œIt’€™s been great,’€ he said Thursday. ‘€œCame back out here to the East Coast with my wife, and I’€™m excited to be here. [I’€™m] thankful to the Kraft family, coach [Bill] Belichick and the organization for the opportunity to come out here and help this organization try and win a championship.

‘€œIt’€™s a winning organization. Everyone’€™s goal is to win a Super Bowl, and I know that this gives me a great opportunity to do that.’€

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is known primarily as a defensive back, but does have some positional versatility — he has worked mostly as a safety, but has also spent time in the slot and on special teams.

‘€œI’€™ve played both safeties,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™ve played the nickel slot, I played four years of corner in college, so I’€™m pretty versatile when it comes to any position in the secondary. I can play ‘€˜em all.

‘€œWe haven’€™t really sat down and talked about it. I’€™ll probably be put in position wherever I can help this team the best. I’€™m sure the coaches will do a good job of placing me where I need to be.’€

In the same vein, he saw a lot of time as a strong safety with the Chargers, but there was a belief that Gregory was out of position in San Diego — Eric Weddle took the majority of reps at free safety — and Gregory’€™s skill set is more suited to that of a free safety with the Patriots.

‘€œI think I can play both. I think I do a good job down in the box,’€ he said. ‘€œI think my more natural position is probably roaming around, playing more pass game and things like that. You typically want a bigger guy in the box, but I can do it. I did it well and I had fun doing it.

‘€œMe and Eric were good friends. We rotated around a lot. We didn’€™t have specific position as down in the box, out of the box type of guys. I can play ‘€˜em all.’€

Gregory also has some experience on special teams.

‘€œThat’€™s the way I made my way in this league,’€ he said. ‘€œI came in undrafted and really worked hard to work my way onto a roster. I did that in San Diego by playing hard on special teams. Played all four and did that for my first two years before I started to build up into playing time on defense. It’€™s important. Special teams is part of the game and I look forward to playing and contributing on special teams as well.’€

Here are a few more highlights from his Q&A:
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Read More: Eric Weddle, Steve Gregory,
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