Is It Too Early for New England Patriots to Panic about Nate Solder?

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Is It Too Early for New England Patriots to Panic about Nate Solder?
Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE

Patriots left tackle Nate Solder has struggled heavily in his first two games—and "struggled" might be being kind. He has been abused. But it's too early to panic.

Solder knows what he needs to improve.

"I have to improve my technique, but to be honest I have to watch the film first to see what happened," he said according to The Boston Herald. "That’s a dynamic group of pass rushers. Things are happening fast. It’s not a matter of which position I’m at (left or right tackle). It’s a matter of getting better."

And he clearly must get better. He gave up four pressures and had two holding penalties called against him in the first half against the Saints. Against the Eagles, he gave up seven pressures in the first half. He wasn't called for any holding penalties, but he probably should have been. It got so bad, at one point, it inspired this tweet from The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard.

Depending on how the labor negotiations pan out between the league and the officials, Solder could get away with that for awhile. But he shouldn't count on it. 

He was holding because he was getting beat, but he was getting beat because of issues with his technique. The primary issues are that he's not using his length to his advantage, playing with a high pad level which makes it harder to reach his defenders, and that he's not getting set properly. 

"I was getting up under him a lot, and that is probably the best thing," said Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham, per the Patriots' official website. "The challenges are that he is a big, long guy, and you have to get his hands off of you. He is real strong, and you have to stay on your game when you are playing against him."

There was a perfect example of this inside the red zone in the first quarter, where Eagles defensive end Trent Cole was able to get under Solder and push through him.

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden highlighted this bull rush by Cole on a replay.

That's one of the things you've got to really take a look at when you have a 6-foot-9 tackle like Nate Solder, is can they handle the power rush? Take a look at this bull rush by No. 58, Trent Cole, who's not the biggest pass-rusher in football, but he got Solder that time. 

Gruden unintentionally highlights an inherent flaw in Solder's game. His height is a gift and a curse. It can be a great weapon when used properly, but it can hurt him against smaller defensive ends who immediately have the leverage advantage because they're lower to the ground. Solder's margin for technical errors is smaller in that regard, because if he gets the slightest bit off balance, it's over. 

The bigger they come, the harder they fall.

And when Solder wasn't getting bulled over, he was getting beat off the snap. 

Solder's initial set is okay, but once again, we see Solder starting off too high and getting bent at the waist as he tries to compensate.

Cole gets Solder's hands out of the way and is off to the races.

Solder's length was supposed to be a strength of his coming out of college, with 35.5-inch long arms to help him reroute defenders in pass protection, but Bedard nailed another point about Solder's struggles: instead of using that length to redirect pass-rushers, he's trying to maul them.

Solder needs to strike the proper balance between extending his arms and not getting off balance. I don't understand why he's not getting back into a proper stance. Solder's trying to maul the rusher instead of directing him with his length.

Saints defensive end Will Smith gave Solder problems with an outside move followed by a quick cut inside. 

Color commentator Randy Cross noted this during the broadcast:

Solder's a knee-bender. He's tall, but when he's at his best, his knees are bent, and frankly, his knees aren't bent. He's not moving well laterally, his legs are a little stiff, and Will Smith is able to get underneath him. He's gotta bend his knees and get his hands out there.

We saw this time...

and time...

again.

He needs use his length to make defenders take the longest possible path to the quarterback.

There are a lot of technique issues with Solder, but they are all correctable. Luckily, he has one of the best offensive line coaches in football on his side in Dante Scarnecchia, who has made the most of some lackluster offensive linemen in the past. 

The question is, can he mold Solder into the franchise left tackle the Patriots drafted him to be?

A source familiar with coach Scarnecchia and with first-hand knowledge of his coaching techniques said that Coach Scarnecchia should be drilling it into Solder's head that he needs to get his hands inside the numbers. 

"That's the hardest thing to do at every level," the source said. 

Only when he gets inside leverage will his long arms be at their most valuable.

The sheer volume of issues doesn't bode well for Solder's ability to seamlessly step in for left tackle Matt Light. There will be some tough moments for Solder, but if he learns from them, he's not doomed.

 

Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates.

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