Solder still learning on both sides of the line


Solder still learning on both sides of the line

By Mary Paoletti Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti

FOXBORO -- "He's played left tackle and I think that will be his position in the National Football League."

The quote is Bill Belichick's, spit at the conclusion of Day 1 of the 2011 NFL Draft. New England's head coach was describing Nate Solder, his first pick and 17th overall.

Just four months later, the "LT" started against the Giants at "RT."

Solder had little more warning than the rest of us.

"That was just kind of a decision coaches made," he said. "They told me yesterday."

The lineman shrugged his enormous shoulders good-naturedly. He's seen many, many snaps this preseason, but entering an NFL game on the opposite side was brand new.

The move didn't seem too jarring.

"It was fine," he said. "It's completely the opposite so you're kind of in Bizarro World for a little bit, but it was fine."

And he held up well in Bizarro World, which is where the first stringers lived during preseason's fourth game. With around six minutes left in the second quarter the second unit came in and Solder moved back over to the left. He appeared safe at home until after the half.

Then the line started springing leaks.

On third-and-9, Solder blocked down instead of out and gave New York safety Tyler Sash a clear path to Brian Hoyer. Sash crushed Hoyer, who got bagged for an eight-yard loss. Zoltan Mesko trotted out for the punt.

The next Patriots drive started with runs by Shane Vereen. Hoyer handed off to Vereen once: 14 yards. He tried for twice: Minus three. On the third attempt, Vereen looked left, but Solder missed his man and the back was pulled down before he could gain an inch.

Not much of New England's offense looked good in the second half and Solder knows he's not innocent. He was pleasantly perplexed when asked to describe his vision on 'that ugly Hoyer sackfumble.'

"Weren't there a couple of them? I'm not sure exactly what happened. Shoot, I don't even know. I don't remember that clearly -- sorry," he laughed.

"But I'll see it on film. Oh yeah, I will."

His laughter doesn't signal a lack of commitment. Solder has played a lot this preseason and he's played well enough to be positive -- even with roster cuts looming. The final trimming happens Saturday and he knows Fake Game Four will factor in.

Was shifting Solder on the line a move to create space? Was it about depth, considering Sebastian Vollmer a) couldn't set an edge to save Brady's life in Detroit and b) was nowhere to be seen Thursday night? Or might it just be Belichick playing with his pawns during preseason? The coach has done this before, a la recently released tackle Nick Kaczur, who won a starting job after moving from right to left.

Solder has questions of his own.

"I learned a lot, but I've got a long way to go," he said. "I'm sure glad I got all the reps in that I got because I need to learn so much. It's a whole growing process, a whole maturing process. This is big league ball; this isn't college ball anymore and there are so many things to learn. Every day I say, 'Wow, I didn't know that. Wow, that'd be good to know."

It's Belichick's job to find answers. Nobody better knows how much development young players need and how much changing or shifting that takes. Especially at the draft.

"It's still obviously a different level of play and his techniques and there are a lot of things that he'll have to improve on," the coach said in April. "But he's a smart guy, hard-working kid, he's already graduated, he's a good worker."

It looks to be paying off. Solder has relished every snap. He's listened to his teammates and absorbed their lessons. He's worked with sage offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia for "countless hours."

The next, he hopes, will come on the 53-man roster. On either side of the line.

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

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.