Veteran free agent Robert Gallery retired over the weekend. So did Matt Light. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (knee) is on the physically unable to perform list, and fellow guard Brian Waters' playing status is still to be determined. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer also is dealing with a back injury, leaving Solder as one of the few starting and healthy linemen from February's Super Bowl team.
Nate Solder is being counted on to take a bigger role this season.
"I think it's a team effort, and I’m just one of the parts to that," Solder said Monday after practice. "It takes all five of the O-lineman. It takes all of the wide receivers and everyone working together. We’re going to play whoever is here, and whatever happens, we’re going to be here working hard."
Solder entered the offseason as a young, budding left tackle. Now, he's being relied upon in training camp as though he's one of the veterans.
Solder has one of the most important responsibilities on the team protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. But you wouldn’t know it from Solder's mentality. He is calm and low key. Solder says he's taken this important second season day by day, which is exactly how the Patriots like their players to think.
All indications are that Solder has been the most consistent lineman in training camp. Part of it is due to injuries to veterans. But the second-year tackle also is meeting -- and perhaps exceeding -- expectations as a 2011 first-round pick.
"We thought Nate was a good football player when we drafted him,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. "He’s come in and had a decent first year. And the most important thing with any player is you try to improve on a day-to-day basis and become a more consistent player."
Solder isn't backing down in training camp. He got into a big scuffle in practice last week with Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes. When we asked about it Monday, Solder chuckled and said, "We're moving on."
Solder has a lot to look forward to. It began the day Light announced his retirement. That catapulted Solder into the starting left tackle role full time in just his second season. The Patriots are legitimate Super Bowl contenders and Solder has a big responsibility in that.
"My reaction [to Light retiring] was it's time for me to get better and work harder," Solder said. "I want to contribute to this team anyway I can. I feel blessed with my opportunities here and it’s worked out phenomenally. But it's up to me to really step up and play well."