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Patriots’ Nate Solder wants to improve skills

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 1, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - Patriots tackle Nate Solder could be taking on a more significant role with the offensive line this fall, and he’s looking forward to what might come.

Solder, New England’s first-round draft pick last year, had a solid rookie season, playing in all 19 games with 16 starts. Fourteen of his starts came at right tackle in place of ailing Sebastian Vollmer, with the other two coming at left tackle. Solder also saw time as the third tight end in jumbo sets, although he did not catch a pass.

Coming up on his 24th birthday April 12, the biggest question surrounding Solder is whether he’ll be flipping from the right side to the left on a full-time basis because of the rumored retirement of Matt Light.

If Light calls it a career after 11 seasons, Solder would likely move to the top of the depth chart as Tom Brady’s blind-side protector.

Solder said he hasn’t talked to Light since the Patriots’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, but he’d welcome the opportunity to compete for the job if it becomes available.

“Well, I feel like that is the reason I was brought here, to eventually be the starter, and that’s great,’’ he said Saturday. “I’m excited about the season.’’

Solder said he’s taken just a week’s vacation since the season ended, and otherwise has been at Gillette Stadium working out.

Asked to reflect on his rookie season, the 6-foot-8-inch Colorado native gave an interesting response.

“My sole drive was not to be a disappointment’’ - he let out a self-conscious laugh - “so I hope I wasn’t a disappointment. But it continues on, you know; I have to get better next year, too.’’

Solder mentioned his technique more than once when asked what he needs to improve.

“I don’t think I’m as well-refined as I can be with my technique,’’ he said. “[My] pass-blocking and run-blocking technique needs to be better.’’

Though he is working out at the team facility, he said there isn’t a lot of work he can do right now.

“The best way to learn and get better is practicing with someone else in full-speed game mode, but right now you work on little techniques with your footwork and your hands and all of that, so they can carry over to the field,’’ Solder said.

During his first season, Solder said he watched Light, who knows what to do on the field after years under the tutelage of line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

After Solder served as Colorado’s starting left tackle for three years, it was a bit different for him moving to the right side last year. He said the technique is the same regardless of the side, but the challenge is flipping things in your mind, in terms of plays and remembering that your dominant arm is different on each side.

Solder addressed hundreds of families at the Dana-Farber Field House on Saturday afternoon; the Patriots and New England Pop Warner held an event to honor youth players and cheerleaders for scholastic achievement. But unlike the younger members of his audience, Solder didn’t grow up playing football in the organization - he was a ski racer instead, idolizing Austrian legend Hermann Maier, and didn’t start playing football until junior high. He got serious about the game in high school, and chose football over basketball in college.

He started his Buffaloes career as a tight end, until line coach Jeff Grimes approached him about playing tackle. Solder gave it a try, and clearly the move has worked.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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