I’ve watched the clip of Luke Masterson’s first-half interception on Mac Jones at least a dozen times and I’m starting to believe that Cole Strange prevented a pick-six by hustling down the field to make the tackle.
The play starts with the New England Patriots quarterback throwing over the middle into a crowd, and the Raiders linebacker picking it off and breaking to his right. At first, it seemed like the Patriots had it covered the whole way.
But if you look closely, Strange may have been the last Patriot with a clean shot. If the rookie left guard misses that tackle, Masterson has a lot of green grass in front of him. Masterson also had two Raiders ahead of him blocking, with tight end Jonnu Smith the only Patriot between him and the endzone.
Could Smith have beaten the blocker and made the tackle? Could Kendrick Bourne have tracked down Masterson from behind? Sure. But there’s also a decent chance that Masterson goes the distance and scores on that play. Strange showed a lot of hustle and athleticism in making that play. In a game where the rest of the offense stunk and the defense had its own issues, it was a bright spot.
Here’s a rundown of how Patriots rookies did in Friday’s preseason game:
QB Bailey Zappe (No. 4)
(Stats: 10-of-14, 84 yards, 1 INT, 56.9 passer rating)
Zappe got his completions, but this was a relatively shaky outing overall. Zappe wasn’t super decisive and wound up settling for a lot of dump-offs underneath — hench him finishing with 8.4 yards per completion.
Zappe was also strip-sacked and throw a particularly rough interception to — of all people — former Patriots receiver Isaiah Zuber, who was playing safety at the time.
WR Tyquan Thornton (No. 11)
Thornton remains out after injuring his collarbone early in the second preseason game.
OL Cole Strange (No. 69)
If nothing else, Strange is a guy who hustles. All through camp, he’s shown a tendency to finish plays strong. On Friday, he showed some big hustle after Jones’ early interception to track down the defender and make the tackle.
Strange started the play by passing off the defensive end to left tackle Trent Brown, sealing that defender outside. He then ran to his right to help out right tackle Isaiah Wynn and clear up a potential threat in the pass rush.
By the time the ball was picked, Strange had moved across the field and had to come all the way back across to wind up making the tackle.
That’s dedication and refusal to give up on a play. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are going to like that.
Strange looks to have the starting left guard spot locked down and had an up-and-down showing Friday night. He looked to have some struggles with the team’s outside zone plays, letting some defenders slip by in space. However, he continues to show a strong anchor in pass protection.
RB Pierre Strong Jr. (No. 35)
(Stats: 2 rushes, 4 yards | 2 catches, 13 yards)
Strong had a relatively quiet night out of the backfield. However, he did manage to punch the ball in from three yards out for a touchdown (before it got called back due to penalty).
Strong had a nice showing as a pass catcher, making a couple of nice grabs over the middle.
RB Kevin Harris (No. 36)
(Stats: 4 rushes, 54 yards, 1 fumble | 1 catch, 7 yards)
Harris has had a quiet preseason, but really showed his upside Friday night. He also finished on a sour note.
The South Carolina product had some powerful runs on the night, including an impressive 33-yard rusher where he broke a tackle and blasted ahead for the longest run of the night.
However, ball security was a big concern. Harris lost the ball at the end of his 33-yard run, but was ruled down. He also lost the ball on his final run of the night. That will earn him from narrowed eyes from the coaching staff.
There was a lot to like, but also a lot to dislike. That’s a C right there.
CB Marcus Jones (No. 25)
Jones played heavily on defense and was flying around, finishing with a team-high seven tackles and a pass breakup.
He also looked solid as a punt returner, returning two punts for 32 total yards.
CB Jack Jones (No. 34)
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Jones has really shown this preseason that he can overcome concerns about his size.
He’s shown so far in camp that he has the closing speed and instincts in coverage. But on Friday night he showed he can really lay the lumber on ball carriers. Jones came up with a big hit on running back Austin Walter on third down, forcing a fumble that bounced out of bounds.
Jones followed that up with a big hit on former Patriots receiver Isaiah Zuber, jarring the ball loose for an impressive pass breakup on 2nd-and-long.
DB Brenden Schooler (No. 41)
Schooler continues to look like a lock to make the team as a special teamer. He’s served as the personal protect on punts and has racked up a lot of snaps in the kicking game. He was all over opposing kick returners Friday night in Vegas. He doesn’t always make the tackle, but he’s usually there to give opposing returners problems.
DL Jeremiah Pharms (No. 72)
The former USFL standout had a really nice series in the second half. He came up with a big run stuff to bring down Brittain Brown short of the marker on 3rd-and-1. On the next play, he combined with Mack Wilson to stop Brown on 4th-and-1 and force a turnover on downs.