By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn FOXBORO At 6-foot-8, 319 pounds, Nate Solder stands head and shoulders over most NFL players.
But after watching him play on Thursday, it's clear why the New England Patriots made him their first-round pick in last spring's NFL draft.
The rookie offensive tackle made the most of his opportunity to play in New England's preseason opener, as he opened a number of holes and a few eyes as the Patriots defeated Jacksonville, 47-12.
With New England's stars and aging veterans, including Matt Light, being held out of the Jacksonville game, it allowed Solder to get starter-like snaps.
"It's good to have an opportunity," Solder said. "You get more comfortable with every snap, and I had a few (Thursday night) and that helped me to get more comfortable."
Added Pats coach Bill Belichick: "We looked at a lot of people (Thursday night); a lot of young players. That was kind of the idea."
Solder was at left tackle for the entire first half of Thursday night's game, a familiar role for him when you consider he was on the field for 2,540 out of a possible 2,542 snaps during his college career at Colorado.
"It was neat to be out there, and I'm happy to be with this team," Solder said. "I have a great group of teammates. But it's a process and I have a long ways to go."
That's true, which is why chances such as Thursday night's start against the Jaguars are so important to his growth.
With the various changes this year because of the late start and the new CBA, rookies like Solder are at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to rookies of past seasons.
So every shot at getting on the field can not be taken for granted. And to Solder's credit, his play in both the running and passing game was instrumental in the Patriots' lopsided victory.
Trailing the Jaguars 6-0, Solder drove a Jacksonville defender backwards and then on to his back which was just enough breathing room for another Pats rookie, running back Stevan Ridley, to power his way into the end zone from one-yard out.
Solder wasn't done.
On Boston's next scoring drive, Solder held his block just long enough for quarterback Brian Hoyer to connect with Taylor Price on an 11-yard touchdown pass. The extra point attempt failed, which left the Pats with a 13-6 lead.
Belichick, never one to douse too much praise on a rookie's play let alone a rookie after his first preseason game was very Belichickian in his initial thoughts on Solder's performance.
"Nate did some good things. I think we really have to look at film and take a close look at everybody," Belichick said. "But he has handled himself well in the practice opportunities he's had over the past week. It seemed like there were some things in the game that were pretty good. And a couple things that didn't look so good. That's the way it is with all rookies. You build on the positives, correct the mistakes and hope that we can eliminate or minimize those mistakes next time around."
For Solder, opportunities to make mistakes in game situations and learn from them, will be few and far between this season with veteran left tackle Light back in the fold.
So Solder understands all too well the importance of opportunities such as the one he had Thursday night.
"I'm staying within the system, with my responsibilities," Solder said. "What my coach asks of me, that's what I'm going to do. It's a building process. You're never there; you're never not there. I'm just getting better everyday."