FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Leave it to the New England Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick to do something no one expected but was entirely predictable.

With their first pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, the Patriots took a lineman but not the one everyone thought they would. Most draft experts had New England taking California defensive end Cameron Jordan to shore up a weak pass rush.

Instead they grabbed an offensive tackle with the 17th selection: Nate Solder of Colorado. Solder is nearly 6-foot-9 and weighs 319 pounds. He played tight end as a freshman, then switched to left tackle, where he missed two snaps in three seasons.

And then Belichick did what he does best with the team’s second first-round pick: He traded it. New England sent the 28th pick to New Orleans for the Saints’ second-round pick this year (No. 56, giving New England three second-round picks, along with 33 and 60) and their first-round pick in 2012. The Saints took running back Mark Ingram, the former Heisman Trophy winner who many expected to be selected by the Patriots at that pick.

Beyond his football talent, fans in New England should like Solder for these reasons: He’s an avid hunter — he’s bagged a deer and an elk — and likes to ski, kayak, raft and fish.

But he knows the Patriots didn’t take him because of his hobbies. He allowed only one sack and three quarterback pressures in his senior year, when he was a finalist for the Outland Trophy.

“I’m coming to New England to play football,” he said. “That’s my sole focus right now.”

Solder, who gives the Patriots a great option if left tackle Matt Light leaves via free agency, sounded excited to have been selected by the Patriots.

“I was sitting and hoping and praying that they would pick me,” he said. “It’s such a great organization.”

Solder had “fairly limited” contact with the Patriots before the draft. His scheduled visit here was canceled and the team didn’t work him out until Monday, just three days before the draft, when assistant head coach/offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia — regarded as one of the best line coaches in football — flew to Colorado to see him.

Solder was completely taken by Scarnecchia and can’t wait to get together with him.

He said he’s still learning his position after switching from tight end.

“I have a lot to learn and that’s a great reason to have Belichick and Scarnecchia coaching me,” said Solder, who turned 23 on April 12. “I’m honored that they picked me.”

While he’s been compared to Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery — similar in size and talent — Solder said he doesn’t model himself after anyone.

“I just play my game,” he said. “And I’m going to do what Coach Scarnecchia tells me to do and that’s what I’m going to model myself after.”

As far as a possible position battle with tackles Sebastian Vollmer, Nick Kaczur and possibly Light, Solder said he would expect nothing less. “I don’t want anything given to me,” he said. “I want to earn everything I get.”

That’s what he did in college.

After making the move from tight end, where his coaches told him he could be good but not great, Solder became a rock on the left side for Colorado.

He missed only two plays in three years — and couldn’t remember either, saying it was probably an “end-of-game situation.”

As far as his taste in game meat? He can’t choose between deer and elk.

“Game meat is the best,” said Solder.

“It’s funny when you go hunting you get hungry. I enjoyed both of them.”

The trade down at 28 shouldn’t have been entirely surprising. Belichick has a history of gathering second-round picks.

Last year the Pats had three and turned them into Rob Gronkowski, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes — all of whom contributed as rookies.

Two years ago, the Patriots had four second-round picks — Patrick Chung, Ron Brace, Darius Butler and Vollmer.

All are still on the roster and producing.

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]