MIAMI – Nate Solder worked with Joe Judge for six years when both were with the New England Patriots and the veteran tackle has a favorite story about the Giants' new head coach.
"We had a really cold practice," Solder said today. "The temperature read seven, but I think it was like negative 15 feeling out there. We all gave Joe a hard time. We were like, 'Hey Joe, we'll give you one thousand bucks if you go out there in the cold (wearing summer clothes). He stood out there with no jacket and shorts on for a two-hour practice.
"So, talk about toughness, the guy has toughness."
He also has Solder's unwavering support. Solder was a second-year pro when Judge joined the Patriots as an assistant special teams coach in 2012. Judge was put in charge of New England's special teams in 2015. Solder joined the Giants two years ago and Judge was hired as the team's new coach on January 8.
"I think it's a fantastic hire," Solder said. "I think he brings a lot of the qualities that we need, so I'm really looking forward to that. I think his commitment to details, his discipline, his history of winning a lot of championships (five, including two at Alabama and three with the Patriots), I think those are all fantastic attributes.
"He's a young guy (38), but he's also a charismatic guy. He was in front of the whole team a lot as the special teams coach. I always kind of thought he was socially a ringleader of the other assistant coaches. I think it makes a lot of sense (that he's a head coach)."
Solder is in Miami representing the Giants as their nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Today he joined approximately 25 other nominees at the Hank Kline Boys & Girls Club, where they participated in several activities with dozens of youngsters, including gardening, painting and mentoring. The NFL Man of the Year will be announced tomorrow night at NFL Honors. Solder was the Patriots' nominee in 2017, the year before he joined the Giants as a free agent.
"Being included is an honor," Solder said. "Every one of these guys just has a great story. They're doing wonderful work all over the world and in their communities. "Just to be inspired and be around these guys is a real privilege."
As Solder spoke, he was using a hose to wash bright green paint off his hands so he could the stick them in dirt for the gardening portion of the event.
"This is great," he said. "These kids are loving it. I've really taken affinity to these guys. These are good kids at the Boys and Girls Club. It's a great idea (bringing the nominees together for a community event). It just highlights that it's not just about winning the award. It's about some of the great things that are going on in every team in every city, that the NFL is doing across the board. It's our honor, it's our privilege to be able to serve these communities."
Although he keeps busy with his civic and charity work, Solder is never far from football. Though he was "beat up" physically at the end of the season, he has continued to work out regularly.
"I'm always of the opinion you want to try to stay in shape because it's a lot easier to stay in shape than get in shape," Solder said. "But you can't be doing the same stuff you're doing during the season. You don't need to be hitting heavy weights and running every single day. Keeping your cardiovascular health and strength up and getting your flexibility and mobility and working on those things is really important at this time of year."
When Solder stepped in as the Giants' left tackle, he had to learn a new offense for the first time since his 2011 rookie season. Now he must do so again under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
"It's a little daunting, to be honest with you," Solder said. "You have to go through all of the new system and everything. However, I have a lot of confidence in all of the guys that they hired, I have a lot of confidence in him, so I think it's going to be a great transition."
Solder said he knows Garrett "a little bit because they almost drafted me in Dallas (where Garrett was the head coach from 2010-19)." He likes that Garrett ran the ball frequently and successfully with Ezekiel Elliott.
"I think that's partly because of what Ezekiel's capable of doing, but it's also the way he's been coached," Solder said. "I'm excited about that. The more you can run the ball, the more you keep it out of third and long, the more those pass rushers can't just pin their ears back, the better we look as an offensive line. It all kind of works hand in glove. If we can keep the ball on the ground and pound it here and there when we need to and get those tough yards when we have to do it, then that's going to make the difference between some of those wins and losses. Saquon (Barkley) has reason to be excited, I think."
But Solder's enthusiasm is tempered by the realism of the challenge that lies ahead.
"We have a lot of work ahead of ourselves," he said. "Just fixing one part, being the head coach doesn't fix everything. Each one of us has to take on the responsibility on our own shoulders to be better next year, to do the things it takes, to work better as a team, and we're thankful that we have a great leader with Joe Judge. We're thankful that we have Jason Garrett and all the coaches that they're hiring. But it's going to be a difficult road ahead of us, as it is for every team at the beginning of the season. We're not looking too far ahead, and we're not looking back."