Nate Solder has landed.
The Patriots first round draft pick, taken at number 17 overall, suited up for his first day of practice in Foxborough after signing a 4 year deal with the team and ending his holdout. Solder was the last of the 2011 draft class that remained unsigned and he took the field just in time as the Patriots conducted their first full practice with almost their entire team on the field. The signing of Solder came on the same day that the new 10 year CBA was ratified by the NFL PA. The deal means that all players can now officially report to their respective teams and begin practicing.
Among the highlights on Thursday was the previously mentioned arrival of Solder and the passing clinic put on by Tom Brady throughout the day. The velocity increase is noticeable from the star quarterback, as the Patriots are now one week away from their first pre-season game of 2011, where they will host the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette.
Solder is easy to spot on the field at 6'8" and weighing in at 319 pounds. He was inserted into the offensive line for several series on Thursday. The tackle from Colorado held his own in his first practice with the team. With Matt Light recently signed for two more years, the sense of urgency to insert Solder immediately at starting tackle has diminished. It is likely, and believed by many, that Matt Light will start this year and mentor Solder so he can be ready to protect Tom Brady in the foreseeable future.
A touching moment came close to the end of practice on Thursday as members of the Armed Forces, who were guests of the Patriots at practice, were escorted inside Gillette, passing by the crowd, who then gave the men and women that protect our country a standing ovation. Several soldiers were visibly moved by the standing ovation and acknowledged the crowd as they walked by.
Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick had his team practice the "hurry up" offense with Brady at the helm. Belichick was all over his team to get where they needed to be and they did. It was a busy day for the Patriots and coach Belichick, as the team looked to be finding their groove despite the extensive lockout.
As Belichick always maintains, "It's early and we still have a lot of work to do."
His team is loaded up at several positions, most notably at Wide Receiver, with a lethal trifecta of Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and the recently acquired Chad Ochocinco. The Patriots are already listed as the odds on favorites in Vegas to win the Super Bowl this year.
Belichick and Brady were both extremely vocal to the team during practice. Gone was the playful banter that had made an appearance over the past week. It's all business now. The business of football, as the Patriots ready themselves to make a run at their fourth Super Bowl Championship in the last ten years. With Brady and Belichick at the helm, the welcome addition of several weapons, both offensively and defensively, the Patriots enter the final week of practice as ready as they can be, before hosting the Jags next Thursday.
The next practice for the Patriots will be on Friday from 1:30-4:00 p.m. This practice is open to the public and if you haven't had a chance to see the Patriots up close and in person, these are the last few days to do so. There will also be an open practice on Saturday, time is still yet to announced.
Kickoff for the New England Patriots first pre-season game of the 2011 season is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Be sure to check back here next week for my end of Training Camp wrap up.