Cole Strange settling in as key contributor on Patriots' offensive line

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Cole Strange learned early in his Patriots debut during Friday night's preseason opener what can happen if you miss something in an NFL huddle.

"There was a play or two [on the first drive] that -- I don't think the communication was bad -- I just needed to listen a little better, and I was hesitant off the ball," he admitted.

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On the second drive, he made sure that didn't happen again.

"I knew I needed to lock it in and focus up. It's one of those things where it's simple when you do it enough times -- it's not necessarily easy -- but it's simple once you get into a rhythm, get into a groove. After you've done a couple drives, you know what you're doing."

Though Strange repeated the oft-used Patriots theme of going through "the process" of getting better, the rookie first-round pick ultimately felt his first NFL action "went well" once he settled in.

Of course, he was only in the game for a few series as Patriots starters saw little (in his case) or no action (like the rest of the offensive line) in Friday's preseason loss to the New York Giants.

But getting the live reps and experience will undoubtedly be helpful for Strange, who went up against some of the Giants' defensive starters during his limited action.

Unlike his fellow offensive line starters, who all have multiple NFL seasons under their belt, every rep is something new for Strange -- and a chance to get better: "Personally, I know for a fact I've made progress, especially since the beginning of camp," he said.

Of course, the offensive line as a whole has been the subject of criticism as the No. 1 offense scuffles through training camp. Monday's practice went particularly poorly in all facets, prompting an extended after-practice meeting led by captain David Andrews.

There's also been talk about changes to the offensive line's communication possibly posing problems for veterans and leading to breakdowns in executions along the unit, raising questions about why the offense has supposedly changed as much as it has from past years and whether the Patriots have to right people to teach the new system.

Strange admits it can be easy to overthink, especially as a rookie. His way of dealing with it, though, might be one reason he's been able to stand out at times despite the line's overall issues.

"It's easy to get into that state [of overthinking], but if you stay there too long, you screw yourself," he said. "For me at least…you kind of have to get into the mindset of, you're going full speed and you go with the mistakes and fix them as you go.

"Because if you start thinking about, holy hell there's a lot to process, you kind of -- what is it? -- 'paralysis by analysis.' Don't too much thinking. Let David [Andrews] and [backup center] James [Ferentz] do that."

That approach seemed to work for Strange and the offense more generally as the operation looked more effective in this game-adjacent setting than it has for much of training camp. Hopefully, that momentum can carry over to what promises to be a competitive week of joint practices with the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium this week.

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