Patriots

Solder 'hoping and praying' Pats would draft him

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Solder 'hoping and praying' Pats would draft him

By DannyPicard
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- @font-face font-family: "Times New Roman";p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; table.MsoNormalTable font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; div.Section1 page: Section1; After catching only three passes for 50 yards in 11 games asa blocking tight end during his redshirt freshman season in 2007, the Coloradocoaching staff approached Nate Solder and said, Youd be an alright tight end,but youd be a great tackle.

The advice paid off with a phone call from Bill Belichickand Robert Kraft on Thursday night, officially making him the New EnglandPatriots first pick of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Solder was the 17th overall pick on Thursday. The offensivetackle got the call while at his familys bed and breakfast in Colorado.

I was hoping and praying that theyd pick me, because, youknow, its such a great organization, said Solder in a conference call.

I didnt know what to expect with this whole process, hesaid. How can you? How can you know? Its all been shocking and surprising.Im just blessed and honored to be a part of it.

Solder said he had no idea what to expect on draft night.And going to New England wasnt anywhere close to a guarantee.

The Patriots had canceled Solders scheduled visit toFoxboro a day before he was supposed to hop on a plane. Instead, Patriotsoffensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia flew out to meet with him, on Monday.

Hes an unbelievable coach, one of the best in the NFL,said Solder. And that was completely obvious when I met with him. And I lookforward to the opportunity to play for him.

Solder said hes only played left tackle in his career as anoffensive lineman, but said he believes in healthy competition, and wants toearn his spot on the roster.

I have a lot to work on, said Solder. And the great thingabout that is, Im a coachable player. And coach Scarnecchia, and coachBelichick, the whole staff, is great to play for.

Danny Picard is onTwitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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