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Losses of Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Jonathan Cooper narrow margin for error for Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots in opener 09.10.16 at 12:46 am ET
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Jimmy Garoppolo won't have Rob Gronkowski to throw to on Sunday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Jimmy Garoppolo won’t have Rob Gronkowski to throw to on Sunday night. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

No Rob Gronkowski on Sunday against the Cardinals means that the already sizable challenge facing Jimmy Garoppolo will be even greater than initially anticipated.

With Tom Brady on the sidelines, the feeling was: Hey, at the very least, the kid can always rely on Gronk. Right? Now, that element has been removed from the equation. And while defense and special teams can still provide a massive boost for the Patriots in this one, there’s simply no way of minimizing the magnitude of the test that lies ahead for the young quarterback.

Even after two-plus years in the system, Garoppolo still is something of an unknown commodity. No one is sure how he’ll react to live game reps over an extended stretch. Is he mentally tough? How will he react in a stressful situation? And with Gronkowski unavailable, how does he respond? All legitimate questions at this stage of his career.

The good news is that New England still has one pretty good tight end in Martellus Bennett. And remember when we were all wondering why the Patriots kept four tight ends on the roster? It means that while Gronkowski’s pass-catching abilities are gone for this game, New England still has enough depth to offer some of those two-tight end sets Arizona coach Bruce Arians talked about anticipating earlier this week.

Expect more of the pass-catching burden to fall on Bennett. It’s worth mentioning in the context of this conversation that the most predictive month of Bennett’s career is September — maybe he’ll start his Patriots’ career on an equally strong note. Meanwhile AJ Derby and Clay Harbor will see more action than initially anticipated as blockers. It’s also worth tossing fullback James Develin into the mix as well, as he practices with the tight ends.

The bad news? It removes the best tight end in the game from the lineup against one of the best young pass defenses the Patriots will face all year. Even when you consider that the big fella doesn’t play any preseason games — which means he usually uses the first four games of the regular season to ramp up to full speed — there’s no way of truly minimizing his loss. Former Patriots executive Mike Lombardi talked with WEEI on Friday just how important Gronkowski would be to Garoppolo and his chances for success against the Cardinals.

“Jimmy needs Gronk,” Lombardi said. “What I think people lose sight of with Gronk a little bit is Gronk’s a great indicator for the quarterback. When Gronk’s flexed away from [the line] — let’s take the Super Bowl, when Gronk lines up out there and K.J. Wright’s with him, every quarterback in the world knows it’s man-to-man. If there would have been a corner out there on him, then they know its zone.

“So Gronk’s a great indicator. It really helps a quarterback, especially when you’re playing against a team that does a lot of multiple things on defense. And not having Gronk out there all the time will affect it.”

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Read More: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jonathan Cooper, Nate Solder, Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Jonathan Cooper all ruled out for Sunday in Arizona 09.09.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO — Sunday’s task for Jimmy Garoppolo will be much bigger than he could’ve imagined, even at the end of the preseason.

Star tight end Rob Gronkowski and starting left tackle Nate Solder have been ruled out with hamstring injuries after not making the trip with the team to Arizona on Friday.

Also ruled out for Sunday is offensive guard Jonathan Cooper.

Gronkowski injured his hamstring in a joint practice against the Bears on August 15 and hasn’t played in the preseason. Gronkowski said Thursday that he wasn’t 100 percent but was optimistic he would be feeling fine in time for the game. Apparently, that changed Friday after consulting with the team’s medical staff.

Gronkowski did say he would consult with the coaching and medical staff before a final decision was made.

Solder was injured in the second offensive series against the Giants in the preseason finale and was replaced by Cameron Fleming at left tackle while Marcus Cannon is the other tackle on the right side.

With Cooper also out, Chris Barker not making the trip and Josh Kline released this week, the Patriots are left thin on the interior line, carrying just Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, David Andrews and Shaq Mason (who is recovering from a broken hand).

Cooper, acquired in the deal that sent Chandler Jones to the Cardinals, hasn’t played in the preseason but did speak earlier in the week. He was hopeful he could get on the field on Sunday against his former team after missing most of camp with plantar fascia issue in his foot.

Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Jonathan Cooper, Nate Solder, New England Patriots
Perfect attendance again Thursday for Patriots in final prep before Arizona 09.08.16 at 12:32 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots held another practice Thursday on the upper grass fields and once again, all players on the active roster were present and accounted for.

The only two missing were Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich, who will spend the first four weeks on the league’s suspended list.

After a full pads practice Wednesday, the team was in just shorts and shells for the humid midday workout.

Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder were both taking part in full stretching exercises before practice, as both were listed as limited with hamstring issues in Wednesday’s first practice report.

Cornerback Eric Rowe and practice squad linebacker Quentin Gause were both taking part in their second practices.

Thursday is the last full day for the Patriots in Foxboro, as the team is leaving Friday for Sunday night’s season opener in Arizona.

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Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Gronk, Nate Solder, New England Patriots
Nate Solder: ‘So uplifting’ getting support of Patriots teammates with son Hudson 08.30.16 at 6:18 pm ET
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Nate Solder

Nate Solder

Last October was a very tough month for the Solder family.

Nate suffered a biceps injury on Oct. 11 in the Patriots’ game against the Cowboys and then just a few days later, Solder and his wife Lexi learned their three-month old son Hudson was diagnosed with bilateral kidney tumors, or Wilms tumors.

“When we were driving to the hospital, I think we both cried the entire way,” Solder said Tuesday on with Dennis & Callahan, part of the WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon. “It probably was a few weeks where we just cried all the time. It was really emotional. It was really hard. The crazy thing, and the weird thing about it was, I got injured the week before the diagnosis. As crazy as it was, the injury was a blessing. I got to be with these guys and go through it without the stress and worry of the season — all those sorts of things.”

Hudson started chemotherapy two days later and since last October he’s undergone 21 chemotherapy treatments. He has them every three weeks now and the plan is for just three more.

Solder discussed how much support he received from his teammates and coach Bill Belichick.

“It was so uplifting the way my teammates have supported us this whole time,” he said. “They were putting together meals for us. They were calling us on a weekly basis. They were reaching out to us and really it went far beyond anything on the football field — just the human element. It’s been so supportive and so moving to have guys like that.”

“Coach Belichick has been amazing,” Solder added. “He really has been amazing. He’s been so supportive with anything we need with Hudson and him reaching out. He even sends me text messages and encouragement all the time.”

After missing the rest of the season last year, Solder is back with the team this season as their starting left tackle. He said football serves as a way to get away from everything going on at home with Hudson and he appreciates the game even more.

“Football has been a release from all the stress from him,” Solder said. “Football was the biggest stress in my life before and now it’s like an escape. It’s fun. I get to kind of take my mind off of things at home and things. I’ve really appreciated and enjoyed it like never before.”

(Click here to donate to the Jimmy Fund.)

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5 things (not including Tom Brady) we’re focusing on when it comes to Friday’s Patriots-Panthers preseason game 08.26.16 at 11:11 am ET
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Friday night represents another opportunity for Aaron Dobson and some other young receivers to make their mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Friday night represents another opportunity for Aaron Dobson and some other young receivers to make their mark. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

1. The back end of the wide receiver depth chart. With Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell all not likely to play and veterans like Nate Washington subtracted from the mix this week, the opportunity is there for the handful of young receivers who are competing for a job to distinguish themselves. DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, Devin Lucien and Aaron Dobson are all part of a group that is angling for one — maybe two spots, tops. None of them could gain any sort of separation last week against the Bears. With the regular season looming, their chances will become few and far between in the coming week. Friday night’s game represents an excellent opportunity for one of them to step up and assert themselves.

2. The fifth cornerback position.
The first four — Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones and Justin Coleman — are pretty much set. But there’s a real positional battle brewing for the fifth spot among a group that includes Darryl Roberts, Cre’von LeBlanc and Jonathan Jones. From this viewpoint, LeBlanc and Roberts have been going head-to-head over the last two weeks, but a late push from Jones could force the Patriots to make some tough decisions when first cuts come down later this month.

3. The right side of the offensive line.
Gradually, the left side of the offensive line has started to come into focus, as Nate Solder (left tackle), Joe Thuney (left guard) and David Andrews (center) are now clearly locked in on starting positions. How about the right side? Presumed starting right tackle Marcus Cannon could continue to use as many reps as possible to get ready for the regular season. (And if he appears shaky Friday against the Panthers, that could jump start a search for another tackle — either a trade or free agent pickup — between now and the start of the regular season.) And right guard appears to be a race between a few possibilities, including rookie Ted Karras. More answers should be forthcoming Friday night.

4. How the backs hold up in protection.
Earlier in the week, James White described his continuing education in the art of blitz pickup as a “work in progress.” If he wants to continue to get the majority of reps as the third-down back going forward, that progress needs to continue. The Panthers have an excellent front seven when it comes to pressure, and with the New England offensive line continuing to be in a state of flux, the backs will be tasked with doing their part to help provide protection for the quarterbacks.

5. The speed of the game, especially for the younger players.
The third preseason game is the one where the intensity and pace get ramped up, as starters get the bulk of the playing time in the first half in a final prep for the regular season. Will Jimmy Garoppolo (whenever he plays) be able to handle a Carolina defense at full speed? With many veterans like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman expected to be on the sidelines, can the younger players on the offensive side of the ball handle the quickness and new level of competition they’re about to face? In short, Friday should be a good test for several guys on the roster as they start to grow accustomed to something approximating real NFL football. (In that same vein, it’ll be interesting to see if there are any veterans playing late in the third and into the fourth quarter. That’s not a good sign for an established player, especially in the third preseason game of the year.)

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper, Cre'Von LeBlanc, Darryl Roberts
Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon ready to take ‘long’ road to replace Sebastian Vollmer ‘one brick at a time’ 08.22.16 at 1:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — These are interesting times for Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon.

The pair of offensive tackles are now front and center on the offensive line with the news over the weekend that Sebastian Vollmer could miss significant time or even the season with a bad hip.

“I love Sebastian,” Solder said. “Whatever he needs or whatever it is, I’ll always be there for him. Sebastian is an awesome guy. He’s one of my best friends. There’s so many things but as a group, we just have to move forward.”

What the Patriots need from Solder and Cannon will be consistency. With Solder slotted at left tackle, Cannon steps into right tackle, a position has had held down since the start of camp since Vollmer has not been able to actively practice at all.

“Wherever they want you to go, they have trust in you and you trust them,” Cannon said. “That’s what it is. If they want you play, that must mean they have trust for you to play in that position, wherever they put me.”

That consistency started to show last Thursday against the Bears with a good effort that produced a solid run game to complement Jimmy Garoppolo, especially in the second quarter.

“I think we definitely made an emphasis of it that week and going forward, there’s a lot of things we need to emphasize and improve on. I think that’s one of the steps where we improved and hopefully, we can continue to improve going forward,” Solder said. “We’ve had some pretty exciting games, I think. I know I’ve been excited to be back in some games. It’s been fun the whole preseason. We’ve taken it pretty seriously.

“There may have been but we’re never satisfied because we have a long ways to go. The way we practice, the way we play, whoever is out there, we’re ready to go. That’s kind of our philosophy on that.”

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Read More: Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder, New England Patriots, nfl
Video reveals several vets already on field in Foxboro 07.26.16 at 5:58 pm ET
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Nate Solder

Nate Solder

We won’t get our first look at the Patriots on the practice field until Thursday, but via a team-posted video from earlier in the week, you can already get a sense of who’s on the field.

Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, LeGarrette Blount, Nate Solder and Duron Harmon were among those spotted running through drills Monday on the practice fields behind Gillette. When it comes to Solder and Blount, it’s a positive sign, as both saw their 2015 seasons come to a premature end because of injury. In addition, Harmon was in a red non-contact jersey, but the sight of the safety — who was absent from spring workouts — is another positive sign when it comes to the health of the defensive back.

While assistant coaches and some veterans will be made available to the media on Wednesday, the first full day of on-field workouts (in front of fans and the media) for veterans and rookies is set for Thursday morning.

Read More: 2016 training camp, Duron Harmon, Jimmy Garoppolo, LeGarrette Blount
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