Even though there is no contact and the New England Patriots are not wearing any pads, it is hard not to notice rookie offensive lineman Cole Strange stand out during mandatory minicamp. A first-round draft selection earlier this year, Strange has made his presence felt not just because he has regularly been running with the starters.
The Chattanooga product also showcased an edge during the no-contact practices having taken place on Tuesday and Wednesday. During the first of those sessions, he dove for a fumble right in front of veteran linebacker Matthew Judon.
The play led to some words being exchanged between the defensive side of the ball and the young lineman, but Judon afterwards had nothing but praise for him.
“That’s not my first time meeting him,” he told reporters the next day. “He’s a young player. He was trying to make a play. Great hustle from him. If you saw him, he sprinted from 30 yards away. Cole is going to be a player for us, and we’ve got to see how he develops. Yesterday, nobody was hurt, we all came back out on the field. So, it wasn’t anything.”
Strange arrived in New England as the 29th overall pick in this year’s draft, joining an offensive line in a state of turnover. Not only did the team lose last year’s starting guards — Ted Karras and Shaq Mason — earlier this offseason, it also is experiment with starting tackles Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn playing on opposite sides compared to last year.
As for Strange, he appears to be the frontrunner to take over Karras’ old role. He spent considerable time aligning at the starting left guard spot between Brown and center David Andrews.
Andrews, who is heading into his eighth season in the system, also spoke highly of his new teammate.
“I think Cole’s doing a great job,” the team captain said on Wednesday.
“I remember what it was like being a rookie. So, there’s a lot on his plate. I think he’s done a good job coming in and woking really hard. Trying to learn it. Obviously, the biggest jumps really come in training camp. But he’s done a good job, he works really hard. But like all of us, we’ve got a long way to go, and that’s what we keep trying to do up here for however more opportunities we’ll get.”
Offseason workouts obviously do not yet feature the same physicality that Strange and company will encounter in training camp. He has therefore not fully arrived in the NFL just yet.
At the moment, however, Strange is just focused on getting better each day.
“I’m kind of just trying to take it one day at a time,” he said after one of the team’s organized team activities in late May. “I knew it was going to be tough, but I’m really just appreciative of the opportunity that I have to be here. ...
“I’ve enjoyed it, honestly. I’ve been really, really happy. Not to sound cliché, but this is a dream come true. So, every single day I come out here, I’m really just fired up to be out here and be working and getting better.”