By Hector Longo
FOXBORO — Tom Brady's backside was priority number one for Bill Belichick last night.
And at this stage of the game, with unrestricted free agent Matt Light seeking upwards of $21 million over the next three years to protect Brady at left tackle, leaping at Colorado's Nate Solder at pick No. 17 of the NFL Draft seemed like a sound strategy.
The coach left no doubt about his plans.
"No projecting, he's played left tackle (three straight years for the Buffaloes)," said Belichick. "That will be his position here."
About an hour after selecting Solder, the Pats — with sexy names like Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers and UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers still on the board — dealt pick No. 28 to New Orleans for a first-round pick next year and No. 56 overall this year.
Tonight at 6 p.m. when the draft resumes with Rounds 2-3, New England now owns selections 33, 56, 60, 74 and 92 overall.
At 6-foot-8, 319 pounds, Solder is long, possibly even a little lean but fits the Pats' tackle mold.
A three-sport athlete who was recruited by small Division 1 schools as a basketball player at Buena Vista High School in Colorado, Solder began his Buffaloes career at tight end.
He actually caught three passes as a redshirt-freshman, before adding over 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
By the time Colorado broke camp in 2009, he was the incumbent starter at left tackle, seeing all but two of the club's offensive snaps over the next three seasons.
"I think it was an end-of-game situation," said the consensus first-team All-America choice. "I think one of the backups was in there just to kneel the ball. It's funny, when they told me I missed two snaps, I had to think about what the heck happened, because I couldn't remember."
Selecting a converted college tight end here has worked before.
Light started his days at Purdue catching passes.
The second-round pick in 2001 has put up 10 above-average years (140 starts) with four Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl rings, and three Pro Bowl selections.
"Kids grow and develop and let's face it, there aren't that many people with that size and that kind of athletic ability roaming around," said Belichick.
By the numbers, Solder ran a sharp 5.05-second 40-yard dash at the combine and excelled in the 3-cone drill at 4.34 seconds. His 21 reps on the 225-pound bench press, though, was unimpressive for an offensive tackle.
But for Pats fans, the fraction of 5/1,400 should be most impressive. Solder, in three years, allowed just five sacks in 1,400 pass drops at Colorado.
That number should have Tom Brady and his backside at ease this morning.
"There are a lot of things he has to improve on," said Belichick. "But he's a smart guy, a hard-working kid. Hopefully, he'll take the coaching that he gets from out staff and be able to improve and develop."