FOXBORO, Mass. — Nate Solder was almost as important off the field as he was on it for the New England Patriots this season.
The Patriots left tackle was named one of New England’s seven captains before the start of the season, and according to his teammates, he was filling that role quite well. But Solder’s impact has been minimized for now after he was placed on injured reserve with a torn biceps this week. That means someone else will have to fill his void on the offensive line — and as a leader.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said Thursday. “Nate has a quiet confidence about him that really encourages everyone in this locker room. Obviously, the player he is for us is huge. Nate is a great man, and if you get to know him, he’s a very unique person.
“So we are obviously going to miss him very much, but we’re doing our best to move forward and definitely play with him in mind.”
While it is tough to see a teammate like Solder go down with a season-ending injury, the motto in the Patriots’ locker room is “next man up,” and this situation is no different, fellow Patriots players said.
“On the field, he’s a tough competitor,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said. “He does a lot, not just for the offense, obviously, but for the team having his presence there. Around here, it’s always the next guy up, trying to get done what he’s getting done on the field. It’s going to be tough, but each guy has to step up.
“Off the field, I think, it’s just tough. You see how much work he puts in and now to have to be sidelined, I think, you feel for him. We’ll find a way and somehow get guys in there and do what we have to do to continue playing well. But it just sucks knowing how you have to watch all the work he’s put in and definitely stepping up to be a leader this year.”
So who, exactly, will be that next man up? Only time will tell, but expect tight end Rob Gronkowski to continue to step up and help with blocking.
“(Solder’s) a great player and a great guy,” Gronkowski said. “You just never want to see someone go down — no one on your team and especially (not) a guy like Nate with his size and athletic ability that he brings to the table. But the next guy has to step up, the offensive line, myself included. So everyone has to come together and step up.”
Next man up is more than a motto for the Patriots now. It’s a reality.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots tackle Nate Solder.
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