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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Former UTC offensive lineman Cole Strange, wearing a New England Patriots hat and a Chattanooga Red Wolves jersey, celebrates after kicking a ceremonial goal during a USL League One soccer match between the Red Wolves and Northern Colorado in May at CHI Memorial Stadium in East Ridge. Strange is an NFL rookie in his first training camp after the Patriots made him their first-round draft pick in April.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Cole Strange didn't set any expectations for himself entering his first NFL training camp.

His aim was simply to learn as much as he could and let the rest take care of itself.

"Honestly, I guess I really didn't think that far ahead," Strange said Thursday. "It was kind of like, let me get this one rep that's in front of me. Trying to be short-sighted and not look too far ahead — right now at least."

So far, he thinks it's paying off.

While the New England Patriots' offensive line has struggled early to find chemistry after some offseason shuffling, Strange has been one of the most consistent players for the group.

A surprise first-round pick out of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in April's draft, the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Strange was plugged into the left guard spot that opened after the free agency departure of Ted Karras. Strange appears to be on track to start there, between center David Andrews and left tackle Trent Brown, when the Patriots visit the Miami Dolphins to open the season on Sept. 11.

After he was drafted 29th overall in April, Strange promised he would bring an aggressive and "nasty" style to the Patriots. His teammates see that, but they said his work ethic stands out more.

"He's a good young fellow, very athletic," said Brown, an eighth-year pro entering the second season of his second stint in New England. "Willing to learn. Willing to put that extra work in. It's going to be fun working with him."

The Patriots spent the balance of the first week of camp installing their new offense. Strange appears to be picking up his blocking assignments and has held his own when given the chance to match up with starting defensive lineman Christian Barmore.

"He's a great guy to go against," said Strange, who gained notice at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine after playing out of the national spotlight in the Football Championship Subdivision. "Honestly, I feel like all of them are. They're all great competition. Every time we do that, I feel like I'm getting better. Hopefully I'm getting them better, too."

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AP photo by Steven Senne / New England Patriots rookie Cole Strange (50) takes part in drills with fellow offensive lineman Trent Brown, left, during team activities in May in Foxborough, Mass. Strange is now in his first NFL training camp, with the first-round draft pick and former UTC standout working toward a starting spot at left guard for the season opener.

When Strange has missed something, he has sometimes received one-on-one feedback directly from coach Bill Belichick, who has led the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles and has something in common with Strange as a Tennessee native — Belichick was born in Nashville, while Strange hails from Knoxville.

"I feel like it's a huge advantage," Strange said of Belichick's direct coaching. "If I mess up on something and he comes over there and works with me, he pretty much tells what it is I messed up on, and when we're watching film, I see exactly what he's talking about."

One thing Belichick liked most about Strange coming out of college was his experience as a five-year starter. That maturity has shown, Belichick said.

"He's done a good job on his assignments, shown a lot of maturity in different situations that we've put him in," the coach said. "But it's a long way to go, and obviously he has talent, but it comes down to production and consistency, and we'll find out over a period of time how that is. Love working with him, though."

Though he's just a week away from getting his first preseason game action — the Patriots host the New York Giants next Thursday — Strange is trying not to look ahead.

"I guess I'm just focused on the here and now," he said. "But I think it's gone pretty well."

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