FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Nate Solder had a simple goal that was difficult to accomplish after the Giants concluded their joint practice with the New England Patriots.
"I'm trying to get off the field," Solder said. "It's taking forever."
That's because everyone wanted a piece of Solder, who played his first seven NFL seasons for the Patriots before signing with the Giants in 2018. Former teammates and coaches wanted to shake his hand or give him a hug. His wife, Lexi, and young children Hudson, Charlie and Emerson returned here to see old friends. Still in full uniform, Solder stood under a searing sun for an interview with a familiar reporter.
"It was like I was here yesterday," Solder said. "It's like nothing has changed."
But while he said "it's good" to be back, Solder insisted he wasn't the least bit nostalgic about returning to the fields on which he participated in hundreds of practices.
"I came here with the mindset that this is a work trip," he said. "There are a lot of great memories here, a lot of great people here, so it's good to see them. But it's about the Giants and getting better, and me supporting the group in any way that I can."
But it was every evident that everyone he worked with – from fellow offensive linemen to the medical staff to the members of the Patriots' communications department– were happy he was back in town.
"We had a great group of guys, but you can't live in the past," Solder said. "We can appreciate what happened. We can appreciate those that we have, and all those relationships will continue on in other facets of life. But man, I'm glad to be here and have this opportunity just to be a Giant and play ball."
That is particularly true even after a) Solder opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns, b) he is not currently a first teamer though he has started 143 of 146 regular-season and postseason games in his career, c) an undisclosed injury suffered on Aug 10 has kept him out of most recent practice drills. He did take some 11-on-11 snaps at each tackle spot in the two days working with the Patriots.
"It felt great," Solder said. "It was good. That's why I do this, to play ball. Instead of standing on the sidelines, it was actually kind of nice to get in the mix a little bit."
When he decided to put on his uniform again this year, it was not to be a spectator, even at practice.
"It requires patience," he said. "I was really frustrated when I got injured. I was playing pretty well, but it requires patience because it's a long season, so I take one day at a time.
"But it's early, so I'll be fine. I'll make it back, and hopefully I can contribute to this team in some positive way."
View photos of the Giants practicing with the Patriots in New England ahead of Sunday's preseason finale.
*Solder wasn't alone in refusing to dwell on his Patriots past in his return to Gillette Stadium. Joe Judge was a New England assistant for eight years before becoming the Giants coach last season. Like Solder, this was his first return since leaving the Patriots.
"I don't really have time for nostalgia right now, to be honest with you," Judge said. "Obviously, there's a lot of players that I've coached for years that are on this team. There's a lot of familiarity with a lot of things. Right now, I'm focused on getting our team to improve and get better. We're out here, and if I start trying to take a walk down memory lane, I'll forget about what's going on in the present. So, I've got to keep my focus narrow right there and understand what our team has to do."
*The players on the Giants' defense were unhappy with their performance in practice yesterday, when rookie quarterback Mac Jones completed a high percentage of his passes. Today, facing veteran Cam Newton and Jones, the unit acquitted itself more favorably.
"I feel like the first day, we made a lot of mistakes and weren't good enough," linebacker and defensive captain Blake Martinez said. "We didn't come ready to play and didn't start fast. I think we went back and looked at the film, made the corrections, came out today and played our style of ball. There will still be things to correct, but we felt good today."
Safety Logan Ryan intercepted a Jones pass early in practice.
"It was just good to set the tone for the day," Ryan said. "Yesterday it was really frustrating. They've got a good, young quarterback who's smart and they've obviously got a great play caller, great scheme. This is a situational practice and a lot of situations – two-minute, four-minute, red area – and I think (Patriots coach Bill) Belichick and the Patriots are the best situational team in football from any decade, so it was a great test.
"Yesterday, I wasn't really happy how I played, I probably played my worst day I've played (of) football in a long time. Personally, I just felt like I didn't lead our guys either. I just felt like I was out of it and I didn't lead our guys the right way, whatever the reason may have been. No excuses. That's football though. This ain't best of seven. You strap it up, you play the next game. Fortunately, we got a second chance at it and I think we responded better today."
Ryan and Martinez believe they have a responsibility to set an example for the rest of the defense.
"Me and Blake, I think we consider ourselves an extension of (assistant head coach/defensive coordinator) Pat Graham and Joe out there on defense," Ryan said. "Pat Graham is extremely smart and puts a lot on our plate in terms of multiples, schemes and defenses, and it's our job to get it, communicate to the guys and have us run it how they envision it. It's a player's league, the players have to make the plays. When Blake has a bad day and I have a bad day on the same day, we lose by 100. Yesterday, we both had bad days. Like I said, it doesn't happen a lot, but it was just one of those days. A lot of people looked at us. I felt like as a leader, how am I going to respond? Am I going to drop my head? Am I going to call it a day? Am I going to get all these pats on the back and 'attaboys' because I played here before? I've got to come out and respond. I feel like Blake and I responded better today and our team responded better today as a whole."