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Patriots LT Nate Solder happy to be back in line

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Aside from the quarterback position, the offensive line may be the most talked-about position in New England this offseason.

The unit struggled to find continuity, consistency and a level of play that was good enough last season, saving its worst performance for the dismal AFC Championship Game loss in Denver.

The return of legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can do nothing but help the unit heading into a new season.

So, too, should the return of left tackle Nate Solder.

The former first-round pick and team captain missed all but the first four games last season due to a torn biceps. He then missed time this spring with a reported calf injury.

After so long rehabbing and dealing with injuries, it was probably no surprise to see the affable Solder sporting a big smile when he met with the media following the first official day of training camp in New England.

"Really, really glad to be out there. It has been a long winter," Solder said. "Finally we get out here in the sun, we're all playing, we're all as a group. There is so much to be thankful for."

Solder jokingly admitted to being a "little bit twisted" that he was so happy to be practicing football on one of the hottest days of the year, and that his level of joy is even greater now after missing the game and his team so much over the last year. Along with Sebastian Vollmer, Solder is the most experienced leader of an offensive line that has a lot of youth and competition on the interior.

"This whole camp I'm excited for. I don't know if I could have said that every camp, but I am excited for this camp," Solder revealed. "I'm excited the things we can improve on, the things that we need to improve on. We always take a lot of pride in what we do and we have a huge responsibility in this season. So we have to work one day at a time, improve, don't take anything for granted. Just get better and better."

Getting Solder back at left tackle will allow Vollmer (who opened camp this week on PUP) to bump back to the right side when he's healthy. The improved coaching and stability at the tackles spots can only be a benefit to the young players and newcomer Jonathan Cooper as they battle it out at guard.

But Solder doesn't really acknowledge the pressure or expectations placed on him to help solidify a line that became the offseason punching bag for frustrated Patriots fans.

"That comes from outside of our building. Inside of our building we know we're a unit," Solder said. "We know the whole offense has to work together. And we all have very high standards, each of us."

That includes the return of the well-respected Scarnecchia, the veteran coach expressing optimism this week about line and the work it's put forth this spring in terms of communication.

"He's a great coach," Solder said of the man who guided him as a young player through his first three NFL seasons before a two-year retirement. "He's said some encouraging things to our group, but we don't take anything for granted. If we just pinned our season on how we did in OTAs it wouldn't mean anything. So work today, we work tomorrow and we just go ahead forward like that."

Forward with the group's leader, captain and left tackle back in his key spot protecting the passer's blindside with an eye on helping the unit come together after a difficult 2015 campaign.

"We are all going to work together and really we have to improve," Solder concluded.

After last season, few would argue with that.

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