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What to expect from Nate Solder in his first season

08.05.11 at 12:34 am ET
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FOXBORO — Hang around the Patriots locker room long enough and you come to realize and understand that the ideal Patriots offensive lineman should be seen, not heard.

Of course, as we were shown again Wednesday night, Matt Light is a very colorful exception to this rule. But look at the list of offensive linemen the team has had over the years and you realize they take pride in showing off their work, not their vocabulary.

Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins and more recently, Nick Kaczur and Sebastian Vollmer.

And now, add to that list, Nate Solder, the 6-foot-8 rookie out of Colorado. After coming to terms Thursday and reporting in time for the team’s first practice in the new NFL calendar year, Solder spent a lot of time watching Light, Mankins and Koppen do their thing.

“I just had to stay in shape and study what I’d been taught on the plays beforehand,” Solder said after Thursday’s practice. “I have a ton learn and to have those guys to teach me is a fantastic opportunity. I couldn’t be happier about that, having those veteran guys.”

He has also been taught by Vollmer and Ryan Wendell some tricks of the trade. Vollmer is an interesting case since he’s the only lineman – at 6-foot-8 – can communicate face-to-face with the rook.

“They’ve all been real warm and welcoming and it’s been a great group of guys. Sebastian and Ryan Wendell are two guys who have helped me a ton.”

At Colorado, what people saw was one of the best left tackles in the nation by the time he matriculated to his senior season. The durable Solder, now 23, played in a remarkable 2,540 out of a possible 2,542 plays on offense from the beginning of his sophomore season through the end of his senior year.

Overall, he started in 36 of 49 total games during his college career, including four as a tight end in 2007.

Expect Solder to be seen and not heard from as he learns the ropes in training camp and the preseason. As for the regular season, it might be a longshot – given his raw skill and power – to think or expect he could be one of the rare few rookie offensive lineman who step in and make an impact.

But the Patriots and Bill Belichick did use a first-round pick on him, signing him to a four-year contract worth an estimated $8.5 million.

So the biggest question is: Can Solder learn enough in his first few weeks with the team to be able to step in to left tackle – the only spot on the line he played in college – should something happen to Light?

“Well, I guess the answer to that is ‘€˜we’€™ll see,’” Belichick said. “Does he have the skill set to play right tackle? I think he probably does, but we’€™ll see. We thought Matt [Light] did, too, and that only lasted about two weeks.

Solder was drafted as a pure left tackle and that’s where he begins in camp. But the future?

“That’€™s what he played,” Belichick said. “And he played it well. That’€™s why we drafted him. But can he play right tackle? I think he has the skill set to, but we’€™ll see.”

What was the reaction from Solder on the designated day of camp that rookies were permitted to speak?

“Feels great. It’s been a while so I was happy to be out here,” Solder said of his wait since playing his final game at Colorado. “There’s great players out here so it’s a challenge definitely.”

But he’s not about to draw conclusions.

“It’s too early,” he said. “I feel good and I’m glad to be out here.

About his holdout that lasted till Thursday, when he became the third-to-last NFL first-round draft pick to agree to terms, Solder showed he has been paying attention to the humility doctrine preached by you-know-who.

“Things happen,” Solder said. “I’m just happy to be here now. Just wanted to get out here and play, you know? There’s such great coaches here. that’s going to help me get ready to play.”

Is all of this overwhelming?

“It’s a big process but there’s a great support [system] and great teammates. About a month ago, I moved in and got to know some of the guys and was training here, getting used to the climate and things like that.”

Expect Solder to be getting used to a lot of playing time this August as he ramps up for his first NFL season.

Read More: 2011 training camp, Colorado Buffaloes, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins
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