--Quarterback Tom Brady is recovering on schedule from a Jan. 20 procedure to repair a stress fracture in his right foot, WEEI.com reported Tuesday.
The operation will not hinder Brady when on-field work resumes. If the season begins on time in September, Brady would be fully cleared medically; he'd also be expected to participate in practices and exhibition games that typically take place starting in late July with training camp.
Brady appeared on the injury report for the final two months of the regular season and in the playoffs with a foot injury sustained in early November. He skipped multiple mid-week practices but was never worse for it on game day, leading the Patriots to the AFC East title and earning his second NFL MVP award with 3,900 yards passing, 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. He did not miss a game.
WEEI.com reports this is Brady's fifth surgery, including an ACL repair and a scope on his throwing shoulder.
--The Patriots entered Thursday night's first round of the 2011 NFL Draft with as much flexibility as any team. Bill Belichick & Co. left the prime-time affair with a potential new franchise left tackle while swapping its other first-round pick for a first-rounder in 2012 as well as an additional second-round pick in this year's selection process.
Despite plenty of trade rumors that the team might be looking to move up as high as the No. 6 overall pick in search of an impact pass rusher, Belichick ending up staying put at No. 17 and taking Colorado left tackle Nate Solder. Solder is a 6-8, 315-pound former tight end with the size, length and athleticism to be a prototypical blind-side protector for Tom Brady.
The pick fills a clear need for New England as Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light, who's guarded Brady's back since being drafted by the Patriots in the second round in 2001, is set to become an unrestricted free agent and could very well have already played his last game in Foxborough.
Belichick called Solder a player the team "had been on for a long time." Though New England might have the option of moving versatile third-year tackle Sebastian Vollmer to the left side, Belichick said the 2010 second-team All-Pro will remain on the right side while Solder stays at his natural left tackle spot. Belichick also praised Solder's work habits when talking about his newest player.
Solder said he had "fairly limited" contact with the Patriots before New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia traveled to Colorado last Monday for a last-minute workout. Prior to that, a visit Solder had scheduled with New England had been canceled.
But he enjoyed his time with Scarnecchia and now looks forward to working with the well respected line coach on a full-time basis.
"He's an unbelievable coach, one of the best in the NFL and that was completely obvious when I met with him," Solder said. "And I look forward to the opportunity to play with him."
Asked if there was a tackle in the NFL after whom he models his game, Solder already sounded like a veteran Patriots lineman in his response.
"I just play my game and I'm going to do what coach Scarnecchia tells me to. That's who I'm going to model my game after," Solder said.
And what does he think about potentially protecting the blind side of the reigning NFL MVP and one of the game's top stars in Brady?
"You know, I think Tom Brady is a great quarterback and I think all my teammates are great players and I'm looking forward to the privilege of playing for the Patriots," Solder said. "I think it's a fantastic organization. I like the way that they do things and I'm honored that they picked me."
After the Solder selection, Belichick got back to his common trading ways by sending his team's 28th pick to the Saints in exchange for the 56th pick in this year's draft and New Orleans' No. 1 pick in 2012.
With that trade the Patriots added more flexibility to the rest of their 2011 draft -- with eight picks remaining over the final two days including three in the second round and two in the third - while also adding to next year's stockpile of picks that had entered the day at a very unBelichickian five selections.
So thanks to the flexibility he built in previous years, Belichick left the first day of the draft with a potential franchise left tackle, more picks and flexibility for the rest of the selection process and a head start on building currency for 2012. All in a draft day's work in New England.
--Though the team didn't do much to address its top need at pass rusher, New England filled a few other needs in its nine selections by getting a potential franchise left tackle in Nate Solder, adding depth to a developing secondary with Ras-I Dowling and depth to the backfield with Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.
But the team clearly will need to be aggressive in either free agency or the trade market to find bodies for a pass rush and outside linebacker position that remains a glaring hole.
Coach Bill Belichick, entering the draft with two first-round picks and six in the first three rounds, also made his usual trades to push picks forward by adding a first-round pick from the Saints and a second rounder from Oakland in 2012.
Still, New England's draft work left many fans wanting for more, especially at the linebacker spot.
Tackle Nate Solder: Solder has elite potential given his size and athleticism. With Pro Bowler Matt Light a free agent, Solder also fills a major need as he will have a chance to start at left tackle protecting Tom Brady's blind side from day one.
Running back Shane Vereen: Vereen not only has the versatility to help out in the passing game as well as on the ground, but comes from a Cal system that produces solid NFL-ready runners. With only undrafted players BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead ahead of him on the depth chart at this point, Vereen should get the chance to make some decent contributions as a rookie.
A closer look at the Patriots picks:
Round 1/17 - Nate Solder, T, 6-8, 319, Colorado
Solder is a former tight end who's only played tackle for three years, but has the length and athleticism to be a premier player in the future.
Round 2/33 - Ras-I Dowling, CB, 6-1, 198, Virginia
Heading into 2010, Dowling was thought of as a first-round prospect, but he played just five games due to injury. He adds depth and versatility (safety) to the New England secondary.
Round 2/56 - Shane Vereen, RB, 5-10, 205, California
Vereen is a versatile back who rushed for 1,100 yards last fall as a junior and scored at least 12 touchdowns in each of his final two seasons. He joins the committee backfield in New England with the ability to chip in as both a runner and receiver.
Round 3/73 - Stevan Ridley, RB, 5-11, 225, Louisiana State
Ridley will move from a rotating committee backfield with the Tigers to the same role in New England. He has experience as both fullback and lead back having rushed for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall.
Round 3/74 - Ryan Mallett, QB, 6-6, 238, Arkansas
Mallett has a huge arm and is one of the more physically talented passers in the draft. He has impressive upside and will learn behind the best in the game.
Round 5/138 - Marcus Cannon, OT, 6-5, 358, Texas Christian
Cannon has a tumor in his stomach that will require chemotherapy. Expected to recover fully from that treatment, he could be a steal and compete for a starting job down the road.
Round 5/159 - Lee Smith, TE, 6-6, 269, Marshall
Smith, who is considered a blocking tight end, could be groomed to replace veteran Alge Crumpler in that role.
Round 6/194 - Markell Carter, OLB, 6-4, 252, Central Arkansas
At best Carter is a developmental edge guy with intriguing length.
Round 7/219 - Malcolm Williams, DB, 5-10, 204, Texas Chtistian
College backup with raw ability.
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