Solder to see college foe in Denver's Miller

570866.jpg

Solder to see college foe in Denver's Miller

It's been one test after another this season for rookie offensive tackle Nate Solder. Last week, he helped the Patriots stop Redskins pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The week before that it was Indy's Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. And when Sebastian Vollmer went down with a foot injury against the Eagles, Solder subbed in at right tackle to keep Philly's defensive line away from Tom Brady.

Vollmer's on-again, off-again availability over the course of this season has forced Solder to be a frequent contributor on the offensive line in his rookie year. He's impressed his coaches by how well he's responded.

"You can't say enough about what Nate's done as a rookie," Pats offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said Tuesday. "Being coached by Dante Scarnecchia is a big deal, too. Being under his guidance right away helped. He came in and was able to be a productive guy right away as a rookie. We put a lot on his plate. We ask him to know different parts of the game-plan, obviously, and he's done a good job and fits in to that whole group of veterans."

When Solder isn't in at tackle, he has chipped in on the Pats' offense as a blocking tight end or as a fullback.

His athleticism and versatility will be put to the test again against the Broncos. If Vollmer continues to miss time, Solder will have to hold his own against against Denver linebackers Von Miller and Elivs Dumervil.

Miller, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, already has 11.5 sacks.

"Both those guys, Miller and Dumervil, those guys are explosive guys that have different rush techniques," O'Brien said. "Both have great food speed. They're a fast defense overall . . . Getting used to the speed of the game as it relates to those two guys and the rest of the defense will be a challenge, especially on the road with the crowd noise and all those things."

Solder may be one of the least experienced players on the Pats offensive line, but he may adjust to Miller's speed quicker than anyone else simply because he's seen it before. As a junior on Colorado University's offensive line in 2009, Solder played against Miller while Miller played for Texas A&M.

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said the Patriots watched the tape of Solder blocking Miller before this year's draft. It was Solder's second season playing as a tackle after arriving at the Boulder campus as a tight end. And though Miller finished the game with five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, the Patriots liked Solder enough to make him the 17th overall pick last spring.

Judging by how much Solder has played this season, the Patriots aren't regretting the decision.

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

patriots_jimmy_garoppolo_2_082616.jpg

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

patriots_dj_foster_082616.jpg

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.