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How rookie Cole Strange helped the Patriots control the line of scrimmage in Sunday’s win over the Steelers

Against the Steelers, rookie left guard Cole Strange often found himself opposite Cameron Heyward, one of the best defensive tackles the Patriots will face this season.Phil Pavely/Associated Press

Cole Strange sat quietly in front of his stall as a flurry of activity swirled around him in the visiting locker room at Acrisure Stadium following the Patriots’ 17-14 win over the Steelers Sunday.

As teammates hooted, hollered, and hugged, Strange went about his business of getting ready to catch the flight back to New England.

In a way, it was similar to how Strange comported himself during the game.

The rookie first-round pick was unfazed by lining up against a fierce Pittsburgh line that had generated seven sacks in Week 1. The left guard was nonplussed as he dug in and often found himself opposite Cameron Heyward, one of the best defensive tackles the Patriots will face this season.


Despite the chaos around him — the Steelers defense features a lot of presnap movement — Strange and his linemates remained focused on keeping Mac Jones clean and prying open spaces for the running backs to race through.

Strange and the rest of the offensive line bounced back nicely in a Week 2 win over the Steelers.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“I feel like we did well. I feel like we handled it well, because they’re a really good unit,” Strange said, softly. “I’ll have to watch the film with the coaches and whatnot to see exactly how everything went, but I thought we moved the ball pretty well. I thought we protected well. We didn’t have any sacks and we won, so, like, I’m good.”

The offensive line, which took some lumps during the summer, and against the Dolphins in Week 1, showed marked improvement as it continues to develop an identity that features both man and zone-blocking concepts.

Strange was a force on both his single assignments and the double teams he worked, particularly with center David Andrews. Strange was pleased to see the practice work pay off.

“It’s really nice. A point of emphasis is always to move the guys on double teams. You get a double team on a guy, you don’t want to just stalemate him,” said Strange. “So, we were able to move them and it’s really nice to see that, feel that too, feel that movement, you know?”


Andrews, one of the smartest and most technically sound centers in the game, has enjoyed watching Strange develop.

“He’s a really good player, does a good job for us. I think as a rookie he’s learned really fast,” said Andrews. “It’s amazing how much he’s picked up. He’s doing a great job. He comes in and works really hard and does what you ask for.”

A testament to how much confidence the coaching staff has in Strange was the decision to run to the rookie’s side on four of the last six plays of the game — including the final two Damien Harris totes, where Strange sealed off Heyward to help seal the game.

“Certainly, a good test for Cole to go against a player of that quality,” coach Bill Belichick said. “I thought we were competitive. Heyward was disruptive, but certainly we’ve seen it worse, so we’ll probably take it.”

The coach also liked what he saw out of the line’s pass protection.

“Width of the pocket was good, depth of the pocket was good,” he said. “Had a holding penalty, had a couple hits on the quarterback, but overall I’d say the pocket was pretty clean.”

Strange, described by Jones as “very stoic,” did get excited when asked what it was like to get his first win in the NFL.


“It feels really damn good,” said Strange. “Hell, yeah!”

Extra Peppers?

With Kyle Dugger dealing with a knee injury suffered late in the first half against the Steelers, a player who could see an uptick in playing time is Jabrill Peppers, who is starting to find his niche.

A solidly built 5 feet 11 inches and 215 pounds, Peppers has steadily increased his presence and playing time after a slow start to the summer as he recovered from an ACL injury.

Peppers, seen here blocking Pittsburgh running back Jaylen Warren in the second half Sunday, could be in for more reps moving forward.Justin Berl/Associated Press

Peppers rotated in regularly against the Steelers and has the skill set that allows him to play close to the box in run support, or in coverage.

Against the Steelers, he was used in a manner similar to how the Patriots used to deploy Patrick Chung. Peppers played at linebacker, slot corner, boundary corner, and safety.

Peppers shined during a third-quarter sequence in which he dropped Diontae Johnson after a 2-yard completion and Jaylen Warren for no gain on the next play. It forced the Steelers to kick a field goal instead of going for a tying touchdown.

“He fits in really well,” defensive play-caller Steve Belichick said Tuesday. “He was coming back from that knee injury, so he was just a little behind those [other safeties] to get out on the field. Dugg, [Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty]. Obviously, those guys have played together for a couple years, so he’s integrated really well with those guys. I think they help him just in terms of their experience and kind of helping him get to the right spots.”


After his back-to-back plays, Peppers pumped his fist and then pumped up his sideline.

“It’s hard to not notice his energy, his excitement, his love for football, how passionate he is out there on the field,” said Steve Belichick.

Collins visits

A familiar face was back in Foxborough on Tuesday as the Patriots hosted linebacker Jamie Collins on a free agent visit. Collins already has had three tours of duty in New England (2013-16, 2019, and 2021). An extraordinary athlete, Collins has 122 games, 706 tackles, 12 interceptions, and 19 forced fumbles in his nine-year career … The Patriots also signed tight end Scotty Washington to the practice squad, taking the place of tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who was released.

Jim McBride can be reached at Follow him @globejimmcbride.