The New England Patriots have enjoyed remarkable continuity at left tackle over the last three decades, with starting duties being passed from Bruce Armstrong (1990 to 2000) to Matt Light (2001 to 2011) to Nate Solder (2012 to 2017).
This season, New England will begin a new chapter at the position following Solder’s decision to sign with the New York Giants in free agency.
Light’s advice to Patriots fans? Don’t expect a seamless transition.
“Look, it definitely has been a position that has been fairly stable over the years,” the 40-year-old said in a conference call Wednesday after being voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. “You go back to Bruce, and then obviously the run that Nate had. We’ve been pretty fortunate. I think as far as fans and how they view this season with respect to the loss of a guy like Nate — Nate’s not a guy you can just replace.
“No. 1, because he’s a ridiculously large mammal (6-foot-8, 325 pounds). I’ll never forget the first time I met him, I thought, man, it shouldn’t be right that guys like this are designed the way they are. No fat, runs like a deer, has got the reach and the wingspan of a vulture. The guy’s just unbelievably talented in so many ways, and he’s smart. Nate was a very smart, cerebral player. You don’t replace a guy like that overnight.”
But replace Solder the Patriots must, and the two leading candidates to do so are cut from very different molds. One, 2018 first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn, is undersized for an NFL tackle at 6-foot-2, 302 pounds. The other, veteran trade acquisition Trent Brown, is massive even by the standards of his position, measuring in at an unofficial 6-8, 380.
LaAdrian Waddle, Cole Croston, Matt Tobin, Ulrick John and Andrew Jelks also will compete for reps in training camp.
“They’ve got some guys that have had a little bit of experience and seen some stuff, but overall, it looks as though you’re going to be going with a guy that may have zero experience in the NFL,” said Light, who started 12 games at left tackle as a rookie in 2001. “Who knows how it all shakes out. But it’s been done before.”
The X-factor in this equation, Light said, is longtime Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who’s regarded as one of the league’s brightest O-line minds.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in (Scarnecchia’s) ability to prepare the guys that he thinks are the best to take the field,” Light said. “And maybe that means they’re going to be juggling a lot of guys in and out and trying to play multiple positions — getting them in the fire a little bit and see how they react. …
“Dante had guys ready to go in and fill the void. But it’s a big void. It’s definitely something that we’re all going to be keeping an eye on. It’ll be interesting to see how they do it and how teams try to take advantage of maybe a younger player or a guy that doesn’t have as many snaps.”