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In Friday's key matchup, PFW's Kevin Fishbain focuses on the Week One battle in the trenches between Nate Solder and Kamerion Wimbley.
Friday’s matchup: Patriots OLT Nate Solder vs. Titans DRE Kamerion Wimbley
The biggest concern about the Patriots during the preseason was not a defense that finished 31st in the league last season, it was an offensive line that suddenly had several question marks. Pro Bowl ORG Brian Waters missed the entire preseason and continues to be a no-show, ORT Sebastian Vollmer has been battling injuries and OLT Nate Solder did not give fans much confidence after a shaky performance as the team's new blind-side tackle.
Solder takes over this season for Matt Light, who protected Tom Brady’s blind side for 11 seasons, and the second-year pro will be under the microscope in Week One. Solder was a bright spot last season on the right side, playing for a banged-up Vollmer for most of the season. As a rookie, Solder allowed four sacks and had three holding penalties, according to Stats LLC. He had to begin his NFL career going up against Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake, and in 2012, he will have another stiff test to open the campaign as he assumes his new position.
The Titans signed Wimbley in the offseason, as pass-rush help was at the top of their priority list. In two seasons in Oakland, Wimbley had 16 sacks. He has missed one game in his six-year career and has 42½ career sacks. His only game against New England, though, Wimbley failed to get to Brady, recording three tackles and zero sacks in the Raiders' 31-19 loss to the Patriots last season.
Solder’s best assets are his long arms and athleticism — he is a converted tight end who stands tall at 6-foot-8. He will need to strike the initial punch against the athletic Wimbley, whose goal it will be to get to Brady quickly and often with his quickness off the edge. The Eagles’ and Saints’ defensive lines had success against Solder in the preseason, a big reason for the doubt that has been cast, and Wimbley will look to take advantage.
The Titans have a solid secondary with CB Jason McCourty and FS Michael Griffin, and will want to make their jobs easier by allowing the front four to put pressure on Brady, which was the Giants’ recipe for success in last year’s Super Bowl.
Patriots TEs Rob Gronkowski and Daniel Fells could take some turns giving Solder help on the edge to keep Wimbley at bay, and a running back could stay in for chip blocks. The Patriots’ staff and Brady have spoken positively about Solder during the past month amidst criticism, and the matchup against Wimbley gives Solder the opportunity to quiet the doubters. For Wimbley, it’s his opportunity show the Titans they made the right investment and if he can wreak havoc, it gives Tennessee a chance at an upset.