FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — With most of their starters watching from the sidelines after having the night off, the Patriots used their first exhibition outing Thursday night to assess the new faces on their roster.
After struggling to find productive contributors via the draft in recent years, the Patriots’ top two rookie class picks of 2022 look set to end that streak.
Left guard Cole Strange and receiver Tyquan Thornton made solid debuts in New England’s 23-21 loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night, a positive sign for an offense that continues to evolve after the start offseason by former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Strange, out in the first round of Chattanooga, seemed comfortable in limited action. He started the game and played in the first two series (14 games), the second of which ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer to Thornton.
Thornton recorded 22 plays on the night and caught both passes thrown his way for 9 yards. The TD catch was the first of his two receptions and included him battling Giants cornerback Aaron Robinson, who was whistled for his defensive holding on the play.
“It was just basic fundamentals,” Thornton said. “It’s something we’ve been working on throughout the week, with a focus on the red zone and it just shows that hard work is definitely paying off.”
Caught in Baylor’s second round, Thornton recorded the fastest 40-yard sprint time among receivers in the March NFL combine. His speed continues to stand out as he tries to establish himself in a receiving group that includes returners Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, as well as offseason acquisition DeVante Parker.
Patriots rookies traditionally receive elevated jersey numbers to wear early during camp before receiving an official one before the preseason opener. Thornton ditched #51 for #11 previously worn by Drew Bledsoe and Julian Edelman.
“Julian, he was a great receiver. I’m pretty proud to wear that number after him,” Thornton said.
Strange was brought in to fill the void left after the Patriots traded Shaq Mason to Tampa Bay. He said playing in his first game felt like a continuation of training and he continues to grow “in every way possible”.
“In college, coaches would point out to me that there were times when I hesitated on the ball, I guess, because I was thinking. Not all the time, but once in a while you could see me doing that,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve been working on. I feel like my technique and pass protection improved, just because we hammered the fundamentals. I feel like I’ve improved there too.
Hoyer said he measured Strange’s performance by how his jersey looked in the mirror after the game.
“I came out clean, so that’s all I know,” Hoyer said. “They did a great job of protecting me and I struggled to see how he was, but all I know is I wasn’t hit much so that’s always a good sign. .”
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