Even though they are voluntary and no live contact is permitted, organized team activities give NFL rookies a first taste of life at the pro level. The New England Patriots currently have 15 such first-year players under contract, with a majority of them present at OTAs.
Ahead of Tuesday’s session, which was the fourth overall and second open to reporters, head coach Bill Belichick spoke about his team’s rookie class at this early point in the process. His remarks were classic Belichick, but they still gave some insight into the challenges the group is facing right now.
“I think they’re trying,” Belichick said. “They have a long way to go as all rookies do. They’re trying, they’re getting better. Still have a long way to go. Some of it is football, some of it is being a professional athlete, some of it is adjusting to the lifestyle, the demands — physical and mental — that they haven’t faced before.
“Certainly the competition is a big step — for some more than others. But it’s a big step for all of them. It’s a giant step for some of them, for others it’s a big step.”
One of the rookies falling into that “giant step” category is New England’s first-round draft pick, offensive lineman Cole Strange. The 23-year-old spent his college career at Chattanooga, only rarely going up against top competition.
Nonetheless, Strange appears to be on his way to earn a starting spot. The 29th overall selection of this year’s draft spent a considerable portion of the two open OTA practices aligned at the vacant left guard position previously occupied by free agency departee Ted Karras.
Despite his promising outlook, however, Strange’s focus is not on the theoretical depth chart.
“I’m really just fired up to be out here, working and getting better,” he said.
That sentiment is ahared by New England’s second-round selection, Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton. While his role projects to be less prominent than Strange’s, at least early on, his focus is on improvement more than anything else right now.
“It’s a process,” Thornton said on Tuesday. “Coming in every day, just trying to work and get better; making strides each and every day.”
According to Belichick, he and the rest of New England’s rookies are all doing just that. The first steps on the “long way to go” have therefore been taken, with another coming during next week’s mandatory minicamp.