Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Nate Solder is key for New England's offensive line.
Keeping Tom Brady safe sounds simple in theory, but it's easier said than done.
Without veteran left tackle Matt Light blocking Brady's blindside, former first-round pick Nate Solder must be the heir apparent.
Solder started 13 of 16 games as a rookie, and looked pretty sharp. Yet during this year's preseason, his performance was up and down, and so was Brady.
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss analyzed the former Colorado Buffalo's preseason debut versus the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 9:
He was flagged for two holding penalties in the first quarter as multiple breakdowns up front paralyzed the offense, with quarterback Tom Brady getting driven to the turf and losing the football to end the team's second drive.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles in preseason Week 2, Solder didn't fare much better. Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham commented on his battle with the 6'8" Solder, per NBCConnecticut.com's Ryan Wilson:
"I was getting up and under him a lot and that is probably the best thing," he said. "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're playing him."
Solder certainly has the tools it takes to be a stalwart left tackle in the NFL, but he's got to become consistent in order to ensure the safety of his quarterback and the success of the offense.
It's not all Solder's fault, however. Last year's fifth-round draft choice Marcus Cannon has been a swinging door at right tackle when filling in for Sebastian Vollmer. And in total, the Pats O-line has given up 10 sacks in four preseason contests.
The edge rushers are getting to the QB, and it only takes one big hit for second-year signal-caller Ryan Mallett to become the starter. Needless to say, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has been tested with this unit.