FOXBORO, Mass. — Cole Strange’s first New England Patriots season was what he expected it to be: a grind, both physically and mentally.
It’s not easy to make the jump from an FCS program like Chattanooga straight into a Day 1 starting job in the NFL, and for Strange, that transition was not seamless. He struggled at times, to the point that he was benched in multiple games. Fans repeatedly questioned why the Patriots would use their top draft pick on a small-school left guard who was projected to go in the middle rounds.
But as the season wore on, Strange felt himself improving. He became more comfortable, less overwhelmed, and played some of his best football down the stretch. Four of the five sacks he surrendered came before the Patriots’ Week 10 bye, per Pro Football Focus, and he allowed more than one quarterback pressure in just two of his final eight games.
One day after the Patriots’ season ended with a 35-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Strange reflected on his “tough” but rewarding rookie year.
“I guess I shouldn’t say I haven’t been surprised with anything, but I kind of focused my mind before I got here (on the fact that) it was going to be very difficult,” the first-round pick said. “It was going to be not just difficult physically, but in every regard — mentally, learning a new playbook, playing against guys that are the best in the world.
“I guess there’s no way to put it other than it was all tough. But I feel like I got better as the year went on, and I feel good moving forward.”
Strange was one of just two offensive players, along with standout right guard Mike Onwenu, to start all 17 games for the Patriots.
“I came in, I feel like I maybe struggled a little bit at first, but I improved as the year went on,” Strange said. “And I think it’s just a matter of continuing to work and continuing to make sure that you’re progressing. I guess that would be the lesson: just keep working and keep improving.”
He added: “It’s really cool to be able to say I played in the NFL, played in all 17 games, started in all 17. But the season didn’t go as we wanted, so it’s not a great feeling in any way.”
With his first pro season now complete, Strange plans to head home to his native Tennessee to spend some time with his family. He’s excited for an offseason that won’t be consumed by the “shenanigans” of the pre-draft process. But there won’t be much downtime for the 24-year-old.
Strange, who wants to add weight to his 6-foot-5, 305-pound frame, said he’ll be back in Foxboro “pretty soon” to begin preparations for the 2023 campaign.
“Lifting, trying to get stronger, trying to get bigger, gain weight,” he said. “Continue working on position-specific drills. So pretty much attacking it from every angle, I guess.”