FOXBORO -- Nate Solder has been watching Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney since middle school, admiring Freeney's ability to blow past offensive linemen and sack quarterbacks. Now, ten years into Freeney's career, he's still one of the most feared defensive ends in football, and Solder may be charged with stopping him.
"There's so many guys I watched (growing up) and he's one of them," Solder said. "He's a guy that's been doing a lot of great things for a long time."
For Solder, there will be no time Sunday to admire Freeney the way he did as a teenager. According to Comcast SportsNet's Mike Giardi, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be out for the foreseeable future with a foot injury. It's likely Solder would be the one to replace him.
Whether the rookie first round draft pick faces off with Freeney or the Colts' other Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis, he knows he'll have his work cut out for him.
"They're real professionals," Solder said. "They have a litany of different moves. They play extremely hard. They're gifted athletes. All of the above."
The Patriots have faced a stable of elite pass-rushers this season, including the Chiefs' Tamba Hali, the Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware and the Dolphins' Cameron Wake. Playing against them and studying their moves this season has given Solder a crash course in protecting the quarterback.
Against the best of the best, Solder said good footwork is paramount.
"I think technique is the most important thing, especially against the best ones," Solder said. "You have to be at a high level of technique at all times."
Solder's veteran teammates have helped teach him the other aspects of the game to prepare him for games like Sunday's.
"All the O-line has been helping me a ton," he said. "The preparation, in-game mentality. All those sort of things are things I've learned from them."
The rookie first round draft pick has shared time with Vollmer at tackle this season, but lately he's been used in other spots, playing as a blocking tight end as well as a fullback. Those spots weren't totally foreign to him as he spent time at the University of Colorado as a tight end, at times motioning in the backfield or lead-blocking for a running back.
"A lot of it carries over and that's kind of what I did in college too," Solder said. "A lot of it is muscle memory, and I remember it. But yeah it's not the same, obviously. I'd say I'm more comfortable on the line."
Blocking Freeney or Mathis should be anything but comfortable. Solder, if called upon, will likely have help from tight ends and running backs, but even so, he knows Indy's D-ends pose a challenge.
Will there be a middle school offensive lineman somewhere watching on TV, admiring Solder for how he snuffs out the Colts' studs? Maybe. Maybe not. But if Solder can keep Tom Brady upright -- for the most part -- and the Colts stay winless, the Patriots would take it.