FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Though starting left tackle Nate Solder returned to practice Tuesday after a multi-week absence, he did not travel with the New England Patriots for Friday night's preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Thus, in a game in which quarterback Tom Brady and many other top players are expected to have extended preseason work, Brady's blindside bears watching.
This highlights the importance of fourth-year offensive tackle Cameron Fleming.
The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Fleming started in place of Solder in Saturday's preseason loss to the Houston Texans. He was also the fill-in starter at left tackle in the 2016 regular-season opener when Solder was sidelined and earned praise from Bill Belichick for his work in that game.
A fourth-round pick in 2014 out of Stanford, Fleming is considered an above-average run-blocker, which was evidenced on Rex Burkhead's initial run as a member of the Patriots on Saturday -- an 8-yarder during which Fleming initially double-teamed J.J. Watt and then moved to the next level of the defense to block a linebacker and pave an opening for him. It was textbook execution.
Fleming's pass protection has been somewhat less consistent, with Burkhead's 22-yard touchdown catch-and-run against the Texans one example of how Fleming got too high in his stance and was pushed back by outside linebacker Ufomba Kamalu's power rush. Thankfully for the Patriots, Brady had gotten rid of the football quickly.
In addition to Fleming, the Patriots have five-year veteran LaAdrian Waddle on the left-tackle depth chart. The former Lion is coming back from a concussion suffered last Tuesday and, though he returned to practice this week, his availability for Friday night's game is not known.
Meanwhile, 2017 third-round draft choice Antonio Garcia has been out of practice with an undisclosed injury the past two weeks. He had been working with the third-unit offensive line before the injury and won't play Friday night.