Patriots

Once at odds, Solder and Cannon now lean on each other

Once at odds, Solder and Cannon now lean on each other

HOUSTON -- The Patriots offensive line is as close a position group as there is in Bill Belichick's locker room. Players' stalls at Gillette Stadium are lined up, one after the next, helping to foster a bond that is on display daily. 

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They wait for one another to go to meetings or to leave the facilities. They are each other's rides to and from the stadium at times. They are guests at each other's homes on holidays. They generally travel in a pack -- as they did when they showed up to the Empower Field House for an indoor practice last week -- huddled up like massive middle-schoolers, waiting for the first bell.

Two members of the line, though, haven't always been fond of one another.

The two tackles who will be expected to keep Tom Brady protected when the Patriots take on the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, are now brutally honest about it: There was a time when they didn't get along.

"There was plenty of talk," Solder said. "It was just kind of like . . . almost like your brother. You know what I mean? You almost want to punch him [because] you can't stand him sometimes."

"Our start was a little rocky at first," Cannon admitted. "Rookies coming in, not really knowing each other. But we've grown a lot since then."

Solder was a first-round pick out of Colorado in 2011, a projected starting left tackle, and an apprentice to then-starter Matt Light. Cannon, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma shortly before the NFL Draft and slipped down teams' boards, was taken in the fifth round out of Texas Christian.

Perhaps it was that they were in competition for playing time. Perhaps it was that their personalities clashed. Perhaps both. But as their rookie season wore on -- with Solder eventually claiming a role as the team's starting right tackle -- their feelings toward one another continued to trend one way.

"We were both up to be drafted the same year, and I think there was a little animosity between us when we ended up on the same team -- which quickly became heavy animosity throughout the season," Solder said.

"That initial situation," Cannon said, "might have been a little bit of maturity . . . It's kind of like having the little brother trying to get the attention of the big brother."

"But over the year, that next offseason," Solder added, "we were the two that were hanging out with each other every day."

Eventually they gained an appreciation for one another. Solder saw how Cannon worked and vice versa. They got to know each other better, as did their families.

Now call the friendship they've built "a blessing." 

They are similar in that neither man can be described as boisterous. They are the epitome of the strong, silent type. But in those moments when they need someone to talk to, they've turned to each other.

"He's somebody that I can ask for help if I need somebody to talk to about non-football stuff or anything," Cannon said. "He's a really good guy."

Solder gained an even greater appreciation for Cannon last season. After beating testicular cancer himself in 2014, Solder's young son Hudson was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor in his kidneys in the fall of 2015.

Cannon was one of the first people to go to Solder to provide some measure support. 

"He said, you know, 'I understand the nightmare you're going through. But just know, Nate, that the nightmare does end,' " Solder explained. "He's seen both sides of that. That was a huge impact on our lives . . . I'm so thankful to have him in my life."

"We've grown together a lot," Cannon said. "We have grown spiritually and on the field. Nate's a good guy. I like going fishing at his house. He catches more fish than me, but it's all good. He's a great guy. He's a great guy to look up to, and he's a great friend."

Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

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Speed to burn: Cooks, Brady team up to form most productive deep-ball combo

The first came in the second quarter, when Brandin Cooks turned on afterburners to beat a Raiders double team and glide underneath a Tom Brady heave for 52 yards. The second came in the third quarter, on the third play from scrimmage of the second half, when Cooks faked an out-route, jetted past rookie corner Obi Melifonwu, and sped into the end zone to make the score 24-0. 

Both deep completions in New England's 33-8 win over Oakland just added to cumulative effect that Cooks has had on the Patriots offense since arriving before the season to become their top deep threat. 

Paired with Brady, Cooks has actually become the most productive deep threat in the NFL. 

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According to Pro Football Focus, Cooks leads all receivers with 431 yards on deep passes (throws that travel 20 yards or more down the field). In second place is Houston's DeAndre Hopkins with 313 yards. 

And Brady, who has long been more effective in the short-to-intermediate range than he has been deep, is now among the league leaders in creating explosive plays from the quarterback position. The Patriots are third in the NFL with 41 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and they are tied for second with nine plays of 40 yards or more. 

"You're always trying to work on that," Brady told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show of his team's deep passing game. "It's not one particular year [you work on it]. I think that's been a concerted effort by our entire offense, trying to make more explosive plays in the pass game. 

"Sometimes your offense is built differently. We actually have some guys now that can really get down the field so that becomes more of a point of emphasis. The way Brandin runs, the way that Chris Hogan runs, the way that Phillip Dorsett runs, they're very fast. You need to be able to take advantage of their skill set . . . 

"When we had David Patten we were throwing it deep. I mean, but David Patten didn't run a lot of short routes. I would say Brandin Cooks, in general, he doesn't run a lot of short routes. Everyone has a different role. If we can get by you, I think that's a good place to throw the ball. if we can't, we gotta figure out ways to throw it underneath and different weeks are going to call for different things based on the strengths of the defenses we're playing, too."

A week before beating the Raiders, against the Broncos and their talented corners, the Patriots had less luck pushing the ball down the field -- though they tried to hit Cooks deep multiple times. In Mexico City, Cooks matched up with a weaker secondary, and he wasn't at all slowed by the altitude, catching six passes in all for 149 yards and a score. 

Per PFF, Cooks has seen almost one third of his targets (30 percent) come on deep passes, which is the ninth-highest rate in the league. He's caught all 11 of his catchable deep passes, three of them accounting for scores.

"Obviously when you're throwing the ball 50-60 yards down the field," Brady said, "your chances of completion go down, but if you hit it, it ends up being a very explosive plays and you can change a lot of field position and get a defense really on their heels if they have to defend every blade of grass on the field." 

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Belichick remembers Glenn: 'A good person with good intentions'

Belichick remembers Glenn: 'A good person with good intentions'

Terry Glenn, the Patriots' top draft pick in 1996, died early Monday morning in a one-car accident in Irving, Texas. He was 43. 

Bill Belichick coached Glenn as an assistant with the Patriots during Glenn's rookie season. He was later Glenn's head coach in 2000 and 2001. Belichick traded Glenn to the Packers before the 2002 season after a tumultuous run in New England that involved legal trouble, injuries and clashes with the coaching staff.

During a conference call with reporters soon after the news of Glenn's death was published, Belichick remembered Glenn for his natural physical ability and "a good heart."

"I was pretty close with Terry," Belichick said, "and his rookie season was my first year here in '96, and so I had a lot of interaction with him and other people that were involved in his life and his upbringing separate from the Patriots. Terry's a very smart individual. Had a lot of, obviously, a lot of physical skill and talent. Could do a lot of things on the football field very naturally. And I think he was deep down inside a good person with good intentions and, you know, a good heart. Obviously it's very unfortunate. Very unfortunate passing. I mean, it's a sad day. Sad news."

According to reports, Glenn was with his fiancee at the time of the accident. She's being treated at a local hospital for unspecified injuries.