Nate Solder doesn’t like to be seen, and is rarely heard. Not that he won’t take his media medicine on a weekly basis, but the Patriots left tackle would prefer to play the game and never once hear his name on the broadcast except for the introductions. In fact, if that’s the way it plays out on a week-to-week basis, Solder is doing his job and doing it quite well.
Unfortunately for Solder - and Tom Brady - that wasn’t the case Thursday night in Tampa, nor has it been the story for a better part of this season. Solder has struggled with rushers of all shapes and sizes. As a result, Brady has been hit more through the first five games of the year than ever before.
Solder isn’t the only one to blame. There have been breakdowns at every spot, but Solder - by my count - has allowed 19 QB pressures, including 3 sacks. And that’s with Brady saving his bacon on more than occasion.
During a conference call with Bill Belichick Monday morning, I asked the Pats head coach if it was fair to categorize Solder’s play as inconsistent, especially when viewed through the prism of years past.
“Well, again, as I said before, I think that overall as a team there are things that we all need to do better; coaching, playing, adjustments and so forth,” replied Belichick. “Sometimes we haven’t just executed things the way that we want to do it. There have been a number of reasons for that. Again, all of us can improve and do better. That’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Solder essentially missed all of training camp and the preseason, yet when they kicked the ball for real that Thursday night against Kansas City, the veteran assumed his normal spot at left tackle and stayed there. He has played all but one snap this year, and that was because Solder was an eligible receiver and by rule had to come off for one play. After scuffling that night versus the Chiefs, and then again in Weeks 2 and 3, Solder put together his best outing in a loss to Carolina. Maybe, the thought was, he just needed that stretch to kick the rust off. I mean, it was essentially his August.
“Of course, the reason why we have practice is so that players can improve,” said Belichick. “I think any player that practices has more of a chance to work on his fundamentals and improve them than a player that doesn’t practice. But that being said, most players somewhere along the line miss some practice time or a game, so that’s something that each individual player has to deal with from time to time. You want to have as many players out there as you can and have them improving individually and have them working with their teammates, but as we all know, that’s hard to get 100 percent attendance on that.”
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn’t seem to think Solder’s issues - if he even has any - are related to missing camp.
“That’s one man’s opinion,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things that happen during the course of a game that could try to pin on one player, but there’s eleven guys out there on offense and there’s a lot of things that go into each play. Not every play is the same protection. Not every play is the same timing. Not every play is the same run scheme. There’s a lot of things that go into good plays, and there’s a lot of things that go into plays that don’t work the way that we would like them to.
“I think Nate battles a lot of the best players in the league over there at left tackle. He’s done it for a long time. Just like every player, there’s going to be some plays that could you improve on them? Sure, but there’s a lot of good plays, too. It’s a team thing.”
The way McDaniels answered the question made me think Solder’s play has been viewed differently inside the walls at Gillette than outside. Are you saying that Solder is playing better than it appears?
“I don’t really stop to analyze one thing or another,” McDaniels said. “We’re analyzing every player on every play that we go through and trying to make everybody better. But, like I said, there’s a lot of things that aren’t as good as we’d like them to be right now, whether they come across as good or not…that’s what all our guys are working towards.”
There is no one on this roster capable of doing the job at left tackle to the level the 29-year-old has played at in previous seasons. But as Belichick has often reminded us - as recently as with Malcolm Butler and Alan Branch - it’s up to the player to establish himself each and every year and set that level. Right now, Solder’s level is far below what the Patriots are accustomed to. With no quick fix in sight, it’s on the player to get right, or Brady will suffer the consequences.