This time last year, Chattanooga guard Cole Strange was barely on my draft radar.
I had seen a few blurbs about him, but most of the information back then came from sites that only track and pay close attention to small school prospects. Finally — finally — I felt like I couldn’t keep Strange off my Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board any longer, so he made his debut on Oct. 20 as the No. 242 overall prospect. And, slowly but surely, more draft analysts started to talk about the interior lineman, and he began to climb up the various big board rankings.
So, after awhile, I did what everyone does these days: I looked him up on Twitter. Strange had a very modest Twitter following back then, so I followed him and tweeted about how much I’d like to see him get drafted by the Cowboys.
Next thing you know, Strange followed me back on Twitter and even agreed to do a phone interview.
Keep in mind, this was pre-Senior Bowl, so he was still training for the event. Nonetheless, Strange graciously spent over 30 minutes on the phone with me, answering all of my (mostly stupid) questions.
After the interview was completed, I said something to him that now seems silly: “Hey, you’re my No. 169 overall prospect, but I think that could change after the Senior Bowl,” I said.
“That’s great!,” he said. “I guess I’m moving up!”
Boy, did he ever.
New England made the 6-foot-5, 307-pound super senior the No. 29 overall pick on Thursday night.
Here’s the original Fanspeak interview with Strange, lightly edited for length and clarity:
“I’m training in Florida. I leave for the Senior Bowl at the end of January.”
“I started at linebacker then changed to defensive end my senior year, so when I got to college, I was like, 6-5, 250, then after my redshirt year, I was about 260 pounds.”
“Much of the weight I added was good weight – about 10 to 15 pounds each year, so right now I’m right at 300 pounds.”
“This past year that would be true because I got bigger, but our right guard – he’s a year younger than me – is a massive guy, McClendon Curtis. (The school lists him at 6-foot-7, 340-pounds.)
* Fanspeak note: Curtis made the 2023 Fanspeak-Jake Rigdon big board, which will be published soon.
“I finished the year playing left tackle after our starting left tackle (Harrison Moon) was injured against Mercer.”
“Well, I played defensive end in high school, so when I got to Chattanooga is when I switched to offensive line.”
“I’ve spoken with several people when the season was still going, scouts would come by, and a lot of time, I had a chance to speak with them, talk to them about different things, football, home life, anything.
“And the position I’m going to play in the (NFL) is something almost all of them talked to me about. They all said I should learn to play more than one position – guard, center, tackle. Anything.
“The position I’m most comfortable with is left guard. … But I’ve taken reps (in practice) at every position along the line.”
“It’s awkward at first, but it’s just one of those things where you get more comfortable with it over time. I’m just more comfortable at left guard because I’ve played there for more years. But, in terms of a game-time decision (like moving to left tackle), at the end of the day, it’s just one of those things that, if I give the team the best chance to succeed, at any position, then I’m gonna get it done.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen all three examples. Really, I just try to play ‘nasty’ out there – be aggressive, play through the whistle, just go at everything with a relentless nature.”
“I never played offensive line until college, and when I finally did – especially my first year – I didn’t win many one-on-one battles in practice. But I constantly worked to get better.
“Shoot, I’ve now head three different head coaches, and four different offensive line coaches. I played a spring season without an OL coach. I’ve had three different OL coordinators, three different strength coaches.
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m blessed to be here. … But, objectively looking at (my career so far), there’s never been this straight line of progress. I’ve always had to just work as hard as I can and do everything I can to get better, regardless of the circumstance.”
“I’m not nervous. With me, you know you’ve got a player who’s gonna come in to work, be professional, do all the little things right. And as far as (the NFL) being ‘too big’ for me, there’s nothing I won’t be able to learn or accomplish or learn to master. There’s nothing about this that’s makes me so concerned that I’m worrying myself to death. I look at (the step-up in competition) as objectively as I can.”
“I know I need to keep my weight up, but it’s tough for me to gain weight. I can do it now, but when the season comes around, especially like after you’ve been practicing all day, the last thing you want to do is stuff your face and drink tons of (liquids.). Like, for example, I entered fall camp in early August, late July, at like 303 (pounds). I ended the season at 298.”
“Maybe I’m short-sighted or just being dumb, but I never considered things not working out (in the NFL). Sure, injuries happen, and there’s some right place, right scheme and all. But I guess I just believe it’s gonna happen for me. And if it doesn’t? Well, I guess I’ll have to move on. I’ll come back to school with a game plan, but in my heart and mind, it’s NFL or nothing right now.”
“For a time, yes, I was crushed that I didn’t get an offer. I mean, I went up there for two summer camps and played defensive end, felt like I crushed it in one-on-ones … but there was just no interest.
“I think part of the problem back then was my size – I was too big for a linebacker but not quick enough to be a full-time defensive end.”
“No doubt, it’s run blocking. Pass protection is a little easier on your stamina, but run blocking, double-teaming, seeing that running back get a chunk of yards – there’s nothing better than having a running back run his ass off and have a good game because of what you and the rest of the offensive linemen did.”