Predicting Patriots' 2012 Breakout Performances: Nate Solder (OL)

James DiMaio@@JamesDiMaioCorrespondent IMay 7, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 11:  Nate Solder #77 of the New England Patriots battles Jeremy Mincey #94 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In the fourth installment of the "Predicting Patriots' 2012 Breakout Performances" series, we take a look at second-year offensive tackle out of the University of Colorado, Nate Solder.

In the wake of Matt Light official announcing his retirement this morning, it seems only fitting to speculate the potential breakout season of his projected replacement at left tackle, Nate Solder.

Despite being drafted 17th overall in the 2011 NFL draft, Solder was not expected to start heading into the 2011 season.  However, when 2010 second-team All-Pro right tackle Sebastian Vollmer went down with a back injury, Solder was thrust into the starting role right way.

The last person a rookie offensive tackle wants to battle in their first NFL start is All-Pro pass-rusher Cameron Wake, who had registered 14.5 sacks the season before.

Patriot Nation was undoubtedly holding its breath knowing the potential disaster this matchup presented.  However, Solder lived up to his first-round draft status and held his own, only allowing Wake to get one sack.

Solder would go on to put together a praiseworthy rookie campaign, playing in all 19 games (including playoffs) and making 16 starts, with 14 coming at right tackle and two at left tackle.  Solder even got substantial snaps as the third tight end in jumbo sets.

Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, not typically a man of many words, had high praise for the young lineman, per ESPN:

He’s a gifted athlete, a very smart guy and very tough. Thank God we took him when you think about it. We didn’t have [Matt] Light at the time. All of the sudden we get some injuries at tackle with Sebastian [Vollmer] and here’s this guy you have to start and play against really good players. The fact that he’s playing tight end and tackle on either side, to his credit how could you want any more out of a young kid than we have this year?

The former Colorado Buffalo is a mammoth of person.  At 6'8'', Solder is the tallest Patriot in team history.  Already weighing 310 lbs, Solder confessed to reporters last month that he plans to get even bigger, in hopes of reaching 330 lbs.

Belonging to a sophomore class that will be experiencing its first NFL offseason, Solder should be one of the larger and stronger young tackles in the league in 2012.  Considering how well he performed in his rookie season coming off a locked out offseason, it won't be surprising if Solder is named to a Pro Bowl in just his second season.

Matt Light has protected Tom Brady's blind side since the beginning of his Hall of Fame career.  While we embrace the sadness of losing a player whose actions on and off the field were exemplary of everything that is the "Patriot Way," we as Patriots fans should also welcome the excitement of the arrival of Nate Solder, a young man who will get every opportunity to be the new star to Tom Brady's left.


Previous Break Out Predictions:

Stevan Ridley

Brandon Spikes

Ras-I Dowling