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Film room: Patriots rookie guard Cole Strange shows promise in preseason debut

The first-round draft pick played 14 offensive snaps versus the New York Giants last Thursday.

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

More than anything, NFL preseason football is an opportunity for players to gain experience against players that will not be wearing the same uniform come the regular season. That experience is particularly valuable for rookie players who have never found themselves in that kind of competition.

Among those is New England Patriots first-round draft pick Cole Strange. The 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Strange joined the team out of Chattanooga. In turn, the leap he has to take is an even bigger one than, say, those players arriving from the SEC.

Despite his small(er) school background, the Patriots have high hopes for their new left guard. His preseason debut versus the New York Giants last Thursday gave us and the team alike a first glimpse at his outlook heading into 2022, and if the results can be trusted as a proper reflection of Strange’s current development it appears those hopes are not misplaced.

The 24-year-old, after all, looked pretty good going up against pro-level competition for the first time. Playing the game’s first two series and 14 total snaps, he accounted well for himself.

Of those 14 snaps, nine saw him pass-protect. Strange held his own, not giving up any quarterback disruptions while facing a rather basic set of rush concepts and techniques — all while playing with no fellow starters alongside him.

His five snaps as a run blocker, meanwhile, are a bit more telling when it comes to how his elite athletic profile might translate to the NFL. The Patriots, after all, used a diverse set of play designs while he was in the lineup: they ran duo, power and outside zone during their first two possessions, with most plays either going to his side or having him pull.

This run by J.J. Taylor (42) saw Strange (69) align in his usual left guard position between center James Ferentz (65) and left tackle Yodny Cajuste (72). Upon the ball being snapped, Ferentz moved to his right to fill the void created by right guard Arlington Hambright (74) pulling across the formation.

In turn, Strange was left isolated against 1-technique defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (97) — another fellow first-round draft choice. The Patriots rookie was able to get out of his three-point stance quick enough to engage Lawrence and take advantage of his angle to move him off the ball. He occupied the defender long enough for Taylor to get around him, and while the play did not gain any significant yardage it was still a positive for Strange.

On this play, Strange went up against defensive tackle Nick Williams (93) aligning over the left side B-gap. The Patriots are running an outside zone concept — the only one used while Strange was on the field — which asked the blockers to create movement and keep their momentum alive through contact.

Strange is able to do just that. He keeps his pad level low to get into Williams’ chest and drive him off the ball, opening up a crease for J.J. Taylor to follow through.

As noted above, the Patriots also used Strange as a pull-blocker and this play saw him motion across the formation with some success. Even though he initially again lined up with Williams on the other side of the line, the youngster quickly translated from his stance into his pull technique to cross the formation and take on his target: off-the-ball linebacker Tae Crowder (48) attacking around the right-side edge between Herron and wide receiver Tyquan Thornton (11).

Strange is coming in a bit hot and eventually ends up on the ground, but he does what he is asked to do: clear out his assigned defender to open up a running lane. While Taylor gets brought down before the goal line, the run itself was one of the better-blocked on Thursday night.

Strange’s contributions to this play and others should no go unnoticed. Just ask Bill Belichick.

“Cole did a lot of good things,” the Patriots’ head coach pointed out the day after the Patriots’ 23-21 loss to the Giants. “There’s certainly things he can improve on, things he can recognize and the next time he sees them, I’m sure he’ll do them better. There’s good things and then there’s certainly coaching points and kind of little things and technique things that the Giants did that our defense doesn’t do, or we haven’t seen from our defense that we can all learn from.

“So, that’s the good thing about these games, is getting those players experience, to see things that we don’t do, we haven’t seen before and seeing them at game speed and hopefully the next time we’ll be able to execute some of those things better. But overall, he’s coming along and making good progress and I’m sure that was a good experience for him last night, like it was for all our rookies. Hopefully, they can build on it going forward.”

Strange and the rest of New England’s rookie class will get their next opportunity against another opponent this week. The Carolina Panthers will visit Gillette Stadium for two joint practices before preseason game No. 2 on Friday night.

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