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Strange Response: Patriots Rookie OL Claps Back at Critics

With his play on the field and now some talk in the locker room, New England rookie Cole Strange is getting the last laugh.

Cole Strange is having the last laugh. Yes already.

On draft night last April, the New England Patriots were mocked for taking an unknown, unheralded offensive lineman out of tiny Chattanooga. No, literally. Supposed draft experts panned the first-round "reach" and NFL peers such as the Los Angeles Rams' braintrust laughed at the audacity of a pick seemingly more appropriate for a much later round.

As is his custom, Patriots boss Bill Belichick ignored the noise, plugged in Strange as New England's starting left guard from Day 1 of minicamp. Now - after leaning on the rookie to close out last week's 17-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers - both men are already being vindicated.

After largely keeping Steelers' All-Pro defensive tackle Cam Heyward off the stat sheet and out of the game, Strange was asked if the reaction to his selection last Spring bothered him. Sporting a bushy mustache, a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt and a perfectly Patriots disposition, the 24-year-old scoffed at the notion.

"No! F--k no!," Strange bellowed. "I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ I didn’t give a s--t.”

Strange, however, saves his loudest talking for the field.

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With the Patriots nursing a three-point lead and 6:33 remaining, Belichick and offensive play-caller Matt Patricia turned to the running game. The results: three yards for Rhamondre Stevenson; then four more; a five-yard scramble through left guard by quarterback Mac Jones on a key 3rd-and-2; Stevenson for six; then eight more; finally, Damien Harris for 16.

On four of those plays - including Harris' clincher - Strange provided the key block.

Said Jones of Strange's quick development, "He’s very stoic, but very competitive in his own way, He’s always hustling to the ball and doing a great job learning the offense. He’s really done a great job. It’s hard coming in as a rookie and starting and he’s done a great job."

Not bad for a "reach" as the 29th overall pick.

"The coaches, the guys on the team, it’s all about culture and winning and just playing ball and working your ass off," Strange said. "That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I love it.”

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