FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It makes good sense for the New England Patriots to insure their most important asset. So they drafted another towering tackle to protect Tom Brady.
The Patriots used the 17th pick on Thursday night on Nate Solder, a first-team All-America player last year who lined up for every offensive snap for Colorado as a senior. They had taken another 6-foot-8 tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, two years ago and he started every game for them last season. And Matt Light has been the starting left tackle the past 10 seasons.
"I have all the respect in the world for those guys," Solder said. "I know this: competition makes everyone better, so that's going to be a great opportunity."
Solder missed just two snaps in his last three seasons at left tackle where he protected the quarterback's blind side. He never played the right side in college, and coach Bill Belichick said he will be a left tackle in the NFL.
"There's a lot of things he'll have to improve on. He's a smart kid, a hard worker," Belichick said. "For a big guy, he moves very well."
Solder will need that skill if he has to block defenders charging hard to knock Brady to the ground.
"I think Tom Brady is a great quarterback," Solder said. "I'm looking forward to the privilege of playing for the Patriots."
New England also needs a pass rusher but traded its second pick in the first round, the 28th overall, to the New Orleans Saints for the 56th choice this year and a first-rounder next year. The Patriots began the day with only five picks next year, one in each of the first five rounds.
The deal was hardly surprising since Belichick made seven trades during the draft in each of the past two years. They now have three choices in the second round, the 33rd, 56th and 60th, and another two in the third, the 74th and 92nd. Those rounds are scheduled for Friday night with the last four rounds set for Saturday.
"We felt that we would still help our team this year and put us in a position to get a good, quality pick next year," Belichick said of the deal.
He even might trade one of those second rounders.
"We've heard from a couple of teams that have expressed an interest in it," he said.
Solder joins an offensive line in a state of flux after remaining relatively constant for much of the past decade.
The Patriots were 14-2 last season before losing to the New York Jets 28-21 in the first round of the playoffs, but, since then, guard Stephen Neal, 34, retired after nine seasons with the team.
Light, 32, is a free agent. Guard Logan Mankins remains at odds with the team over a new contract after sitting out the first seven games last season during the dispute. The six-year veteran, 29, was designated by the team as its franchise player.
Center Dan Koppen and tackle Nick Kaczur, who spent all last season on injured reserve, are 31.
Solder, the second offensive tackle drafted, took every snap at left tackle for Colorado as a senior and gave up just one sack.
But he didn't come to Foxborough for a tryout. It wasn't until Monday that the Patriots took a good look at him in person when offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia traveled to Colorado where Solder's parents run Peri and Ed's Mountain Hideaway, a bed and breakfast in Leadville.
The tryout, Solder said, "wasn't exhaustive. But, like I said, all the great things I learned about him were confirmed. I could tell he was an absolutely great coach and I was hoping and praying, though I didn't want to put (it) in my mind to go there. But I'm so honored to be there."
Solder started with the Buffaloes as a tight end then moved to tackle before the 2008 season. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February, he had just 21 repetitions bench pressing 225 pounds.
"I don't want anything given to me," he said. "I want to earn everything I get."