School starts early for rookie Solder


School starts early for rookie Solder

By Mary Paoletti Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti

MIAMI -- Some NFL rookies get start when they're good and ready. Others don't have the luxury.

When the Patriots' injury report came out and Sebastian Vollmer was ruled out because of an ailing back, the egg timer dinged on Nate Solder.

Get in there, Rook.

Bill Belichick did slide the left tackle to the other side for some reps during New England's preseason finale against the Giants, but starting Solder on Week 1 at right tackle wasn't the original game plan.

And he knows that.

"I just feel like I have so much to learn," he said after New England's 38-24 win in Miami. "Going out there, I gave up a bunch of pressures and a sack. There was a lot of emotions, but we need Sebastian out there. He's our starter and we need him back as soon as possible.

"There were some jitters and things going into it. Going in there was a learning process -- every snap -- and I'll continue to learn, because I want to continue to play at a better level because that's just how I am."

The two players have something in common beyond the obvious. Vollmer was also forced to learn under fire, making his first start in 2009 at left tackle to fill in for an injured Matt Light. He's been a starter (excepting injury) ever since.

Now Vollmer is the one sidelined while a rookie is asked to fill the void. And with no timetable set for return, Solder will have to get used to being at Tom Brady's right hand. As will the Patriots.

But it might turn out okay.

Solder faced a daunting challenge in his NFL debut by taking on Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake, who had a league-best 14 sacks last season. And, largely, Solder answered the bell. The Patriots showed confidence in Solder by pushing the offense down his side and he returned the favor with some solid coverage. They also put the Gronkowski brothers (a little Dan, a lot of Rob) and Dan Connolly in his hip pocket for blocking.

"I was getting help from the tight ends and I was getting help from the guards. We were playing a great defensive line. Wake is a great player so we thought that was a great idea.

"Wake's an incredible player. I'm just learning to play with guys like him," Solder laughed. "First game, I'm a young guy. I have a lot to learn."

He'll have to take some notes on Miami's second quarter Brady sack. The Patriots were on the Miami 29-yard line with 17 seconds left to play. It was second-and-20. With Brady in shotgun, Solder ran Wake down to the inside, flushing the Patriots quarterback out of the pocket. Wake picked Brady up on the outside for a one yard loss.

"Wake had some good moves and he was putting them on me," Solder shrugged. "It was a long day for me."

Not the last. Not by a long shot.

Solder's getting schooled every where he turns. After the game, a small media outlet asked the rookie to read something gimmicky on camera -- 'Hi, I'm Nate Solder and you're watching football on Station X.' He obliged, politely but awkwardly.

Brady, who was dressing at the next locker over, shook his head in disgust.

"Just because they ask you to do something doesn't mean you have to say yes," Brady said.

Solder nodded: Lesson learned. Now it's on to the next one.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track. 

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

Ever since Derek Carr signed a five-year, $125 million extension with the Raiders to give him the highest average annual contract value in league history, some version of the same question has been posed over and over again. 

What does this mean for other quarterbacks looking for new deals? 

Despite the fact that Carr's average annual value surpasses the previous high set by Andrew Luck ($24.6 million), and despite the fact that Carr's contract provides him the security that alluded him while he was on his rookie contract, his recent haul may not mean much for the likes of Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins and other top-end quarterbacks.

They were already expecting monster paydays down the road that would hit (or eclipse) the $25 million range, and Carr's record-setting contract may not even serve as a suitable baseline for them, as ESPN's Dan Graziano lays out.

So if Carr's contract did little more for upper-echelon quarterbacks than confirm for them where the market was already headed, then does it mean anything for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo? 

Carr and Garoppolo were both second-round picks in 2014, but from that point, they've obviously taken very different roads as pros. Carr started 47 consecutive games in his first three years and by last season he had established himself as one of the most valuable players in the league. Garoppolo, by comparison, has started two games. 

Both players still hold loads of promise, but unless Garoppolo sees substantial playing time in 2017 and then hits the open market, he won't approach Carr's deal when his rookie contract is up.  

ESPN's Mike Reiss projected that a fair deal for Garoppolo on the open market might fall between the $19 million that was guaranteed to Chicago's Mike Glennon and Carr's contract, which includes $40 million fully guaranteed and $70 million in total guarantees, per NFL Media.

Perhaps something in the range of what Brock Osweiler received from the Texans after Osweiler started seven games for the Broncos in 2015 would be considered fair: four years, with $37 million guaranteed. Because Osweiler (before his deal or since) never seemed as polished as Garoppolo was in his two games as a starter in 2016, and because the salary cap continues to soar, the argument could be made that Garoppolo deserves something even richer. 

Though Garoppolo is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2017 season, there is a chance he doesn't get there quite that quickly. The Patriots could try to come to some kind of agreement with their backup quarterback on an extension that would keep him in New England, or they could place the franchise tag on him following the season. 

Either way, Garoppolo will get paid. But until he sees more time on the field, a deal that would pay him in the same range as his draft classmate will probably be out of reach.