New England Patriots: Nate Solder

Patriots LT Nate Solder is a valuable asset

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
In an entertaining piece on Grantland, Bill Barnwell produces the first entry of a multi-part list on the top-50 trade assets in the NFL. Barnwell covers numbers 30-50 in Part I and lays out the ground rules at the start of the piece, pointing out that economics are a big part of the evaluation.

There is a New England Patriots player on the list that might come as a surprise to some: left tackle Nate Solder at No. 41.

"Solder has stepped in for Matt Light after the latter’s retirement and been an above-average left tackle for the past two seasons," Barnwell writes. "Those guys retail at about $8 million per year. Solder will make $2.7 million in the fourth year of his rookie contract, and New England has already exercised the fifth-year option on his deal, which will pay him $7.5 million in 2015. After one year with Bruce Armstrong, Belichick turned the left tackle slot over to Light for the next 11 seasons; it would not be a surprise if Solder were Belichick’s third and final regular at left tackle as Patriots head coach."

Cornerback Darrelle Revis is the other Patriots player on Part I (at No. 35), while we'd expect quarterback Tom Brady to land somewhere in the top 10.

Specific to Solder, he was selected 17th overall in the 2011 draft with the pick the Patriots received from Oakland in a 2009 trade for defensive lineman Richard Seymour. Solder has played in 47 of a possible 48 regular-season games, with 44 starts.

When it came down to it, it's my belief the Patriots were debating between Solder and defensive lineman Cameron Jordan that year with the 17th pick.

Turns out they wouldn't have gone wrong either way.

Checking the locks: Patriots OL

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
As part of this slow time on the NFL calendar, when we'll be taking a break to recharge for the 2014 season, we introduce the pre-produced "checking the locks" series in which we analyze the players on the Patriots' roster who are "locks" to stick. It's offensive linemen on Thursday.

Sure-fire locks: LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, RT Sebastian Vollmer, OT/G Marcus Cannon, C Bryan Stork, RG Jon Halapio, RT Cameron Fleming

Near lock: G Josh Kline

Trying to get in the door: C Ryan Wendell, C/G Dan Connolly, C/G Braxston Cave, G Chris Barker, OT Jordan Devey, OT Chris Martin

ANALYSIS: When it comes to competitions in training camp, offensive line is near the top of the list. Unlike last year, when the Patriots were combing the waiver wire in late August in hopes of finding some developmental blockers with upside, they are well-stocked to the point that incumbent starters Wendell and Connolly could feel pressure to keep top roles. It will all come down to how quickly draft picks such as Stork (fourth round, 105th overall) and Halapio (sixth round, 179th overall) develop and injuries, as well as how many offensive linemen the team ultimately decides to keep (anywhere between eight and 10). Wendell and Connolly have played plenty of good football for the Patriots, and are top-notch locker-room guys, so they warrant respect and should not be written off. But when a team drafts three offensive linemen, it's quite possible something will have to give somewhere along the line if everyone remains healthy.

Leftovers from weekly Pats chat

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
A few leftovers from our weekly New England Patriots chat:

Evan (NJ): Hi Mike, in the AFC Championship Game last year, our pass rush was nearly nonexistent. I think we definitely need to sign a strong pass rusher to give Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich some relief. Do you see the draft or free agency as being the better option?

Evan, I do think we'll see an addition at defensive end behind Jones and Ninkovich, as the team has explored veteran Will Smith as one possibility. But another point to consider is how a pass rush comes from more places than just the defensive end spot. A better interior push will also be a factor and the team should upgrade in that area if Armond Armstead emerges as a contributor. I could also see Jamie Collins being more of a factor in this area. Better coverage also helps the rush and the Patriots look pretty solid in the secondary right now.

James (England): If, as you suggested, linebacker Ryan Shazier is an option in the first round, do you project him as playing inside or outside?

James, I think Shazier is best suited off the line, so it would depend on what defense the team is in. Part of my thinking with Shazier is that 70 percent of defense is played in sub anyway and he could ultimately be a big part of that. Also, there is a pretty notable dropoff after the top three linebackers of Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and more quality depth is needed.

Joe (Waltham): Mike, do you think the Patriots draft a QB in this draft? Obviously the visits of Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were nothing more than educating themselves more on the draft board, but if someone like AJ McCarron falls to the bottom of the 2nd or even the 3rd, do you think they consider it?

Yes, Joe, I think that is a distinct possibility. A late second-round pick seems a bit rich to me for a quarterback but I think anything after that is in play. Just as Ryan Mallett was a third-round pick in 2011, it wouldn't surprise me if the team picked a quarterback that early this year if the right prospect is there (e.g. Pittsburgh's Tom Savage).

Earl (Marlborough, Mass.): I thought that Will Svitek filled in pretty admirably for injuries early on in the season, and he has versatility. What is his likelihood of return as depth on OL?

Earl, Svitek helped the Patriots through an early stretch of injuries in the preseason but by the end of the season, it was notable to me that rookie Josh Kline was thrust into action over him. Part of that could have been due to Svitek battling an injury. My sense is that the plan would be to turn that guard position over to a younger (less expensive) player like Kline or Chris Barker, knowing that the team goes three deep at tackle with Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon.

Carlos (Maine): Mike, why is it just assumed that Ryan Mallett is gone next year?

Carlos, Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014 and thus is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at this time next year. With Tom Brady entrenched as the starter here, and signed through 2017, it makes sense to think that Mallett will likely want to pursue a better chance to start elsewhere. The door should never be slammed shut on Mallett's return, but I'd think the odds wouldn't favor it at this point.

Solder and the fifth-year option

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
One of the popular topics at the NFL owners meetings was teams and their decisions to exercise -- or not -- the fifth-year option on players selected in the first round of the 2011 draft.

All of those players have the option built into their contract, though teams must decide by May 3 whether to exercise it.

The Panthers are expected to use the option on quarterback Cam Newton, the first pick in that draft, while the Lions will not use it on defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the 11th pick that year.

The Patriots haven't publicly announced anything on left tackle Nate Solder, the 17th pick.

From a financial standpoint, this is what the option entails, with an assist from friend of the blog and cap expert Brian McIntyre: It will be equal to the average salaries (the cap number minus workout/incentive clauses) of the third-25th highest paid players for those at the position at the end of the restricted free-agent signing period (May 2).

Though Solder has played at left tackle for each of the past two seasons, the calculation includes all offensive linemen. So, and this is a ballpark figure, exercising the fifth-year option on Solder would equate to an $8.6 million salary in 2015.

Solder has shown himself to be one of -- if not the -- premiere young offensive linemen in the game. He's a foundational-type piece who the Patriots may have an interest in extending at some point in the future, though the option buys them time. Though $8.6 million is a high number, it's a fair value given Solder's play and the importance of the left tackle position.

We'll continue to monitor whether the Patriots decide to exercise the option, with our contention that it makes sense to consider.

Patriots positional review: OL

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
Continuing our positional review/offseason preview, here’s a look at the New England Patriots offensive linemen.

Guard Logan Mankins
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game this season, including one at left tackle when Nate Solder suffered a concussion.
2013 highlights: The tone-setter. Mankins flexed his toughness throughout the year and showed his versatility in kicking out to tackle as well. A road grader in the running game who was named to the Pro Bowl. After nine seasons, Mankins remains one of the top interior linemen in the league.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Left tackle Nate Solder
Age: 25
2013 status: Played and started 15 games at left tackle. Also logged 22 snaps as a tight end during the regular season.
2013 highlights: Solder continues to blossom into one of the top young left tackles in the league. Has a compelling mix of length and power, but can continue to grow sturdier in his base. Was at-times dominant. Missed his first career game with a concussion.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season (team can exercise option through 2015)

Center Ryan Wendell
Age: 27
2013 status: Played and started every game at center.
2013 highlights: After an exceptional 2012, Wendell wasn’t quite as solid in 2013. He can be outmanned in the middle sometimes with his light frame, but he remains a solid technician. Smart, involved in the line calls and an accurate shotgun snapper, he’s a center you can certainly win with.
Current contract runs through: Free agent

Right guard Dan Connolly
Age: 31
2013 status: Played and started every game at right guard.
2013 highlights: After a down 2012, Connolly bounced back for a steady 2013. Offers unique versatility to play both guard spots and center. Not an overwhelm-er at the point of attack, but has good short area quickness and athleticism. If Wendell departs in free agency, Connolly could return to center.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer
Age: 29
2013 status: Played and started eight games before being placed on injured reserve after suffering a broken leg.
2013 highlights: Dominant when on the field. The towering right tackle was among the best at his position before the injury. Powerful and athletic, his loss was felt along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2016 season

Guard/tackle Marcus Cannon
Age: 25
2013 status: Played in 14 games, starting six in place of Vollmer.
2013 highlights: The Patriots’ utility man along the line, Cannon took snaps at both tackle spots. He has experience at guard as well. As a starter, he was sufficient. Had some struggles against elite defensive ends but has continued to progress. Gives the Patriots insurance along the line.
Current contract runs through: 2014 season

Guard/tackle Will Svitek
Age: 32
2013 status: Played in 13 games, starting two at right tackle when Cannon was out due to injury.
2013 Highlights: Another utility lineman who returned from injury after missing the entire 2012 season. Held up in spot duty at both guard and tackle. A veteran with positional versatility.
Current contract runs through: Free agent.

Guard Josh Kline
Age: 24
2013 status: Played in seven games, starting against Baltimore when Mankins played left tackle.
2013 highlights: Emerged as a young, developmental prospect. Went undrafted out of Kent State but could stick around as a player the Patriots can count on. Performed at a high level in start against the Ravens.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Guard Chris Barker
Age: 23
2013 status: Played in four games.
2013 highlights: A reserve who was active sporadically, seeing some time on the field goal/extra point team.
Current contract runs through: 2015 season

Others on the roster: C/G Braxton Cave, T Jordan Devey, OL R.J. Mattes, OT Markus Zusevics

POSITIONAL NEED: Contractually, the Patriots have four of their five starters from 2013 in place for next season, as Wendell is the lone free agent. If the team brings him back, the 2014 starters may well mirror this year’s starting group. If Wendell doesn’t return, the team could shift Connolly back to center, use Cannon at right guard and form an altered starting five. Kline showed promise as a developmental prospect, while Barker, Cave, Devey, Zusevics and Mattes are lesser-known prospects. Given that Cave was claimed off of waivers from Cleveland at the start of the season, he could be a player the team has a preferred level of interest in. All told, the Patriots have options along the offensive line. The angle worth watching closely is the transition from longtime coach Dante Scarnecchia to Dave DeGuglielmo. Scarnecchia was simply phenomenal, both as an X’s and O’s coach and talent developer. This group had some struggles on the whole in pass protection this season, but can be a strength of the roster with a bounce-back season.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

W2W4: Five things for Colts-Patriots

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
After a weekend off, the New England Patriots are set to return to game action on Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts (8:15 ET).

The two teams squaring off reminds us of the days of Tom Brady-Peyton Manning in the postseason, as this will mark the fourth time the two franchises have played in the postseason (by the way: the winner of their three previous postseason matchups has gone on to win the Super Bowl).


What's your prediction for Patriots-Colts?


Discuss (Total votes: 9,413)

The stakes are obvious for the game, with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line. During this same weekend last year, the Patriots found themselves playing a Divisional round game at home with a chance to ensure that the AFC Championship Game would be played inside of Gillette Stadium.

The top-seeded Broncos had been upset by the Ravens on Saturday night, leaving the Patriots and Colts as the highest seeds and thus turning their game into the right to play at home the following weekend.

A win this Saturday night for the Patriots or Colts would open up the door to hosting the AFC Championship Game, though it would take an unlikely upset by the Chargers on Sunday for that to be the case.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, as Saturday has the feel of a potentially memorable contest.

With kickoff drawing near, here’s a look at what we’ll be watching for.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRobert Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season.
1. Solder-Mathis showdown. The Colts’ best defensive player, defensive end Robert Mathis, may just be the top pass-rusher in the NFL. That’s a big job for Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who said earlier this week that Mathis reminded him -- in some ways -- of Saints defensive end Junior Galette. The Patriots are likely to give Solder some help from time-to-time on Mathis with the utilization of backs chipping and tight ends nudging Mathis before releasing into their patterns, but Solder will also need to be up to the task, as he has been for much of this season.

2. Shadow T.Y.? The Colts’ offense has been depleted by injuries this season, leaving T.Y. Hilton as the most fearsome target for quarterback Andrew Luck. Hilton is a terrific athlete with exceptional speed, which the Patriots have tried to simulate this week in practice by adding Reggie Dunn, who once ran a 4.24 forty. The question that lingers is whether the Patriots will turn to Aqib Talib to shadow Hilton, as he has done with many other wide receivers this season. Hilton doesn’t run exclusively out of the slot, but his role on the inside has picked up since Reggie Wayne went down. Might Talib follow him around the formation? Or will the Patriots turn to multiple defenders to slow him down?

3. The role of former Pats. The Colts brought aboard a familiar face this week in former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, adding to a group of former Patriots that now play in Indianapolis. That also includes kicker Adam Vinatieri, who will play in his 25th Patriots-Colts showdown. While Vinatieri’s role is defined, how Branch will be utilized will be interesting to monitor. Given that he was signed this week, it seems plausible Branch might not even be active for the game, but if he is, many eyes will be on number 86 (his jersey number with the Colts) to see how he performs on the field.

4. No safe leads. Every game is worth watching in its entirety, but this one in particular. If we learned anything about the Patriots this season and from the Colts last weekend, it’s that no lead is safe and no game is truly finished until the clock strikes zero. So if either team jumps out early, don’t presume the outcome is decided. The Patriots are fully aware of just how capable Luck is playing from behind, while the Colts know the Patriots have been as gritty as any other team in the NFL in close games this season.

5. Airing it out or ground and pound? Earlier this week, Mike Reiss and I debated over whether the Patriots should air things out against a vulnerable Colts secondary or continue what has worked of late -- the ground game approach led by LeGarrette Blount. The Colts' defense is probably better against the run than it is versus the pass, but that’s not to say the front seven is a dominant group (it allowed 5.1 yards per carry this season, second worst in the NFL). With potential rain in the forecast, slick conditions on the field could make throwing the football difficult, and could lead to a physical showdown at the line of scrimmage. If the Patriots do opt for a ground and pound approach, look for Blount and Stevan Ridley to both be relied upon heavily.

McCourty taps brother for Colts tips

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With larger than normal media crowds on hand at Gillette Stadium this week in advance of the Patriots' first playoff game of the season, the team has had several players address the media from the podium that normally is used just for Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady's press conferences.

On Wednesday, safety Devin McCourty and left tackle Nate Solder were among the talkers, and below are some of the highlights:

McCourty taps into brother for knowledge: McCourty has an X-factor of sorts on his side this week, as his twin brother, Jason, a Titans cornerback, has faced the Colts twice a season since the start of his career. Devin said that he checks in with his brother when the Patriots face an opponent the Titans have seen.

"Of course. He really just tells me the notes that they've got," he said. "I think it's big when you play someone twice a year, you understand more about them than I understand just from a personnel standpoint. He sends me everything he has and I texted him before and said, 'Whenever you've got time, send me over the Colts notes.' "

While the Patriots and Titans play different defensive schemes, Devin added that advanced knowledge of the Colts' tendencies can be beneficial.

"Tendencies, what they do as an offense," he said. "And then what we really talk about a lot is the players. How he felt a player was, what he felt he did well when he watched film."

Solder makes unique comparison: All eyes this weekend will be on Solder as he squares off against ferocious Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, who does his work from the right side of the Colts line.

Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season, due in part to both his natural talents and his relentless pursuits, according to Solder.

"I think it's rare that you get a guy that has that much talent and then plays so hard every play and that's him," he said. "That's the challenge of him, I think."

Solder also passed along a unique player comparison for Mathis.

"Maybe [New Orleans Saints defensive end] Junior Galette, maybe but I would say he's kind of unique in the things that he can do, really unique, I'd say," he said.

Though they are similar in some ways, Solder didn't want to suggest they are carbon copies of each other.

"I wouldn't have gone too far with that," he said of the Mathis-Galette comparison. "But they have a real sharp quickness, they're quick off the ball, they have a nose for the ball, they play really hard. I think those are the things."

Solder did well to hold Galette without a sack back in a Week 5 meeting with New Orleans, something he hopes to replicate this Saturday against Mathis and the Colts.

Solder, Vereen, Thompkins active

December, 29, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder and running back Shane Vereen are both active for today's game against the Buffalo Bills, which is the most notable takeaway from the team's list of inactive players.

Solder missed last Sunday's win against the Ravens with a concussion, and Vereen was limited to seven snaps with a groin injury in the game.

Also, receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) is active after missing the past three games.

The full list of inactives:

DE Jake Bequette
OL Chris Barker
DT Isaac Sopoaga
CB Alfonzo Dennard
S Devin McCourty
LB Steve Beauharnais
WR Josh Boyce

ANALYSIS: Sopoaga is a healthy scratch for the second straight week. He has slipped to fourth on the defensive tackle depth chart behind Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones, and Joe Vellano, and the Patriots need the depth in other areas ... Dennard was a game-time decision last week (shoulder/knee) and he gets the rest today; hence the promotion of practice squad cornerback Justin Green on Saturday.

Bills inactives:

QB EJ Manuel (knee)
WR Stevie Johnson (personal)
WR Cordell Roberson
RB Ronnie Wingo
DB Brandon Smith
G Mark Asper
G Antoine McClain

Week 17 X's & O's thought: Extra lineman?

December, 28, 2013
When the New England Patriots played the Buffalo Bills back in Week 1, they were without tight end Rob Gronkowski.

It was the first game in 2013 that we had seen the group without Gronk, and questions abounded as to how they will fill his spot in the lineup.

As it turned out, one unforeseen wrinkle appeared in the season opener, as left tackle Nate Solder was often used in a tight end alignment, helping the Patriots to offset the disruptive pass rush of the Bills.

Fast forwarding to Week 17, the challenge the Bills present from a pass rush standpoint has been reinforced 56 times over (in the form of their league-leading 56 sacks), and once again the Patriots will be without Gronkowski.

Solder missed Week 16 with a concussion, but has practiced each day this week and is questionable to play on Sunday. Given that he's participated in each workout, there seems to be at least a chance that he will play.

If he does play, one can wonder whether or not the Patriots will once again utilize Solder in such a fashion so as to slow down the edge rushers in Buffalo -- led by Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes.

The Patriots turned to Marcus Cannon as their fill-in left tackle in Week 1 with Sebastian Vollmer manning the right side, but with Vollmer on injured reserve, they would have to switch things up if they use Solder as a tight end again this Sunday.

The logical option would be to kick Logan Mankins out to left tackle and use Josh Kline at left guard. Kline held his own against the Ravens last week and would be called upon to help neutralize a rugged set of interior linemen for Buffalo.

It's no guarantee that Solder will play tomorrow, but if he does, it'll be interesting to see if the Patriots once again utilize him in a flexible role as they did in Week 1.

Projecting the Patriots' inactives

December, 28, 2013
Before the New England Patriots play a game, we'll attempt to predict the team's inactive players.

Our best guess on the list for Sunday's game against the Bills:

Devin McCourty: Starting safety has missed all week of practice with a concussion. Rookie Duron Harmon is the top candidate to take his place.

Nate Solder: Starting left tackle has been on the injury report the past three weeks with a concussion. He's been limited in practice this week and more visible in the locker room, but we'll play a hunch that the team sits him out for a second straight week.

Dane Fletcher: Linebacker was a game-time decision last Sunday because of a groin injury, and didn't pass the pre-game test. If he is inactive again, it could potentially give him another two weeks to heal if the Patriots earn a first-round bye.

Shane Vereen: Running back was held out of last Sunday's win after leaving with a groin injury, and if this was the playoffs, he'd be ready to go. But the possibility of the team holding him back as a precaution makes some sense from this viewpoint.

D.J. Williams: Tight end adds a third layer of depth, and while it would be helpful to have it on the 46-man game-day roster, needs at other positions trump the luxury of a No. 3 tight end.

Jake Bequette: Second-year defensive end is fifth on the depth chart and has been inactive the past eight games.

Josh Boyce: Rookie receiver and primary kickoff returner has already been ruled for the second straight week with an ankle injury.

(Last week: 4 of 7 projections correct.)

EXTRA POINT: The Patriots have two open spots on their 53-man roster and those will likely be filled today with promotions from the practice squad (our best guesses are safety Kanorris Davis and offensive tackle Jordan Devey). Thus, a full complement of seven inactives is projected.

Ninkovich limited at practice by ankle injury

December, 26, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty (concussion) and wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) were the two players absent from Thursday's practice, while defensive end Rob Ninkovich was the only addition to the injury report, with an ankle issue that limited him on Thursday.

It is not known when the injury to Ninkovich occurred or how much it has limited him. He was seen in the locker room Thursday without any noticeable limp or hitch in his step.

If McCourty and Boyce are unable to practice on Friday, it would cast doubt on their availability for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Bills.

A total of 12 players were limited in practice Thursday, a list that included left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), both of whom missed the Week 16 game in Baltimore.

McCourty, Boyce absent from practice

December, 24, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting safety Devin McCourty and rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) were the two New England Patriots not spotted at the team's walkthrough on Tuesday morning.

McCourty left Sunday's game after tackling Ravens tight end Ed Dickson in the third quarter and did not return. The team officially announced it as a head injury, although it is unclear if McCourty suffered a concussion. Rookie safety Duron Harmon filled in for McCourty.

Boyce, meanwhile, suffered a Week 15 ankle injury against the Dolphins that kept him off the practice field all of last week and out of Sunday's game. The timetable for his return is unclear.

Running back Shane Vereen, who left Sunday's game with a groin injury, was on the field and taking part in team stretching. Safety Steve Gregory, who left the game Sunday with an undisclosed injury but did return, was present for the walkthrough but spent the media-access portion of it on the sidelines.

Left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were also present for the indoor walkthrough.

One additional note: Running back LeGarrette Blount was still wearing his AFC East Champions hat. He obviously likes the fit.

WR Boyce unlikely to play vs. Ravens

December, 20, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rookie New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Boyce, who injured his ankle in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's loss to the Miami Dolphins, was not present at practice for the third straight day, making it unlikely he plays Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

Boyce has been serving as the primary kickoff returner and was playing a top role at receiver with fellow rookies Aaron Dobson (three games missed with foot injury) and Kenbrell Thompkins (two games missed with hip injury) sidelined.

With Dobson and Thompkins looking like they are nearing a return, it could offset the loss of Boyce at receiver. The Patriots would most likely turn to running back LeGarrette Blount or safety Devin McCourty for kickoff return duties.

Boyce was the only player not present at practice, meaning that starting left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) was on the practice field for the second straight day. Solder was limited in Thursday's practice.

After two days of practicing on the Gillette Stadium game field, the Patriots held practice on their lower grass practice field Friday.

Nate Solder back at practice Thursday

December, 19, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder, who missed Wednesday's practice with a concussion, returned on Thursday, leaving rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) as the only player not spotted at the beginning of the on-field workout.

Solder, the towering left tackle, left Sunday’s game in Miami early in the fourth quarter with the injury after being limited in the week leading up to the game with a concussion. He was replaced by starting left guard Logan Mankins, with rookie Josh Kline taking Mankins' normal position.

Boyce suffered his injury late in the game Sunday, as well, leading to increased repetitions for veteran Austin Collie. Fellow rookie wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and Aaron Dobson (foot) practiced again. The Patriots are hopeful to get the duo back this week after a combined five games missed.

The team practiced again on the game field, maybe because the Ravens play on a FieldTurf surface at their home stadium (Gillette Stadium is a FieldTurf surface). The Patriots practiced in shells and helmets this morning, as they did on Wednesday.

The Patriots will suit up Friday for their final practice of the week before traveling Saturday to Baltimore for the Week 16 matchup with the Ravens. The Pats can clinch the AFC East crown with a win.