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It's an interesting group of tackles in the 2011 draft; several potential first-rounders are trying to show that, despite the need for improvement in several areas, they can be the kinds of franchise protectors every team needs. There are no lead-pipe locks in this class.

Don't tell Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi that, though. He believes that he's the standout because of the competition he's faced, and he made that clear on Thursday at the scouting combine, when all the offensive linemen spoke.

"Four potential first-round players I've gone against this year," Carimi said. "I have a better résumé of going against better talent than anyone else, so that makes me more pro-ready. I'm physically stronger and have more career starts and better knowledge of the game than any other tackle out there."

The Outland Trophy winner does have an excellent array of pass-protection skills. He shows a good kick-step and gets wide to deal with edge rushers. But he needs work with his agility at the second level.

Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, who resides at or near the top of most tackle lists, talked a bit about his plans after football. Castonzo was an Illinois State Scholar and enrolled in a biochemistry program at the College of Arts and Sciences.

"When I'm finished [with football]," Castonzo said, "I'd like to open up some kind of foundation and kind of pursue my biochemistry degree and kind of use it to do some sort of medical research. Probably go into some more schooling, actually."

Castonzo didn't ease right into college ball after high school. It took awhile for everything to develop. "I had zero scholarship offers out of high school," Castonzo said. "I was a 6-7, 220-pound drink of water. Every school that I talked to said, 'We don't think you're going to get big enough,' so I went to Fork Union Military Academy and got big enough."

Castonzo's take on Carimi's assessment of himself as the best tackle in this class?

"That's his opinion. It's what we've put on film. I'm not going to stand up here and say I'm better than him or he's better than me. It's for the scouts to decide based on what we've put on film. This is just kind of the capper here at the combine. He's a nice guy. He's a bit of a joker. A fun guy to be around."

Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State may be the most complete tackle in this class. He showed at the Senior Bowl that he could do everything well, including kicking over to right tackle without a hitch when the coaches asked. "I'm a very physical, competitive, intelligent offensive tackle that can come in right away and help out whatever organization that I'm with," Sherrod said Thursday. "I plan on going in right away and helping out as much as possible."

Colorado's Nate Solder may be the biggest project of the bunch. The 6-foot-8, 315-pound former tight end flashes great athleticism at times, but he will also lunge in space and he needs work when it comes to protecting the back half of the pocket. Solder is aware of the criticism from analysts. It fires him up to improve ... as long as it's the right person behind the analysis.

"I've been playing tackle for three years, so there are things I need to work on in my technique constantly," Solder said. "I take some of that with a grain of salt. But the people that know what they're talking about, that I listen to, I do take that.''

What's the transition like from tight end?

"Some things came naturally, it takes a lot of athleticism to become a left tackle, same as a tight end. But some things didn't come naturally -- knee-bend, using your hands, those sort of things."

As with all tackles, Solder takes the games in which he gets beaten to heart, and as the base for improvement. One example for Solder was his game against Cameron Jordan of Cal early in the 2010 season, when Jordan put up a sack and two tackles for loss.

"Well, that was a breakdown in technique from me." Solder said. "You learn not to take anyone for granted and that guy played a heck of a game – you've got to give it to him and no matter who you go against you can't break down in your technique. That was just a fundamental error on my part."

Teams looking for their next great tackle in this draft may not find a ready-made solution, but there is a great deal of potential among these players.

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