The Patriots are likely to lean heavily on tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder in 2012, the presumptive starters to bookend the offensive line.
The two are built similarly in stature -- Vollmer 6-foot-8, 315 pounds, Solder 6-foot-8, 319 pounds -- and possess comparable aspects to their respective skill sets. But they will each play inherently different roles.
As a left tackle, the primary objective for Solder will be to maintain the blindside protection of quarterback Tom Brady. That puts the premium on him to be reliable and consistent, as Matt Light was for much of his Patriots career.
In seeking left tackles, coaches and evaluators often look for players with quickness, reactive athletic ability, and the intelligence to make sense of the rush in front of them.
Pass rushers come in all different forms, and their methods for reaching the quarterback vary; some prefer a speed rush, others power, and some have an arsenal of techniques based through their hands and ability to leverage (this was part of what made Mike Vrabel such an effective rusher).
A left tackle, and in this case Solder, must be quick enough to get out of his stance, reactive enough to mirror his opponent’s moves, and smart enough to anticipate what will come next.
As a run blocker, it’s not always imperative for a left tackle to overpower, but reliability to engage defensive ends and outside linebackers is crucial.
Flipping over to the right side, an emphasis is placed on being able to “get movement” in the running game, which is to say the right tackle needs to engage his opponent and drive him off the line.
A number of factors go into accomplishing this, not the least of which is functional strength. Right tackles can often be the heaviest lineman of the five, and Vollmer displays a powerful base and ability to overwhelm defenders.
Additionally, a right tackle needs to have the right temperament and body control to set the tone as a run blocker. That involves lining up defenders and playing with enough poise to effectively execute, not just throwing his body around like a battering ram.
In New England, protecting the quarterback is at least a five-man job, thus making the right tackle accountable to hold his own as a pass blocker. Right tackles can ill-afford to disrupt the shape of the pocket by being bull-rushed, and also need to be able to tie up speed rushers off the edge.
The roles of the right and left tackles in any offense ultimately boil down to similar end games. They each must be able to positively impact the passing game and running game. That being said, a difference typically exists in their primary responsibilities. Most simply, a left tackle must be able to pass protect, a right tackle must set the tone as a run blocker.
In today’s NFL, offenses have shifted towards an emphasis on passing such that all linemen must be athletic enough to protect – right tackles included.
For the Patriots, Vollmer and Solder offer a pair of players that have the skill sets to be successful together for a long time.