The Patriots came away from draft weekend with seven draft picks and a whole truckload of undrafted free agents to add to an already stocked roster. Of the group, four players had one distinct connection: they all played at Rutgers.
Cornerback Logan Ryan (third round), safety Duron Harmon (third round), linebacker Steve Beauharnais (seventh round) and cornerback Brandon Jones (undrafted free agent) were all teammates under now Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers, and they will continue to be, for the time being at least, in New England.
Bill Belichick has the utmost respect for Schiano and his coaching philosophy, which is evidenced by their engagement in trades involving both Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount over the past year. But it’s definitely more than coincidence or friendship that has Belichick coming back to the well.
“I think certainly it’s coincidental to a degree,” Belichick said. “But I just would say that the players – I mean, I’ve known Coach Schiano for quite a while. I’d say the players he recruits and the program he runs is in a lot of ways similar to what we do.”
Schiano is known to run a very tight-knit system, much like the Patriots. He doesn’t stand for attitude problems or bad behavior, and he is one of the few others coaches who truly values a player’s character and intelligence. So, it’s no wonder Belichick would be interested in some of his players.
“The fact that he’s recruited those kids four to five years ahead of when they come into this league and they’ve been in a program that’s, in a lot of ways, probably similar to ours, then it’s probably not that surprising that we would like some of the kids he’s produced, both talent-wise and total makeup.”
Belichick does have an inside track into the Rutgers program that goes even beyond his relationship with Schiano. His son Steve, who is now a coaching assistant with the Patriots, was a long snapper on the Rutgers football team for one season in 2011. So, he has a good feel for the pulse of the program and can vouch for a lot of them as both players and men. But the connection is rooted much deeper than that. For Belichick’s interest isn’t with the program itself, but rather the sorts of players it breeds.
“I would say certainly with this group, these three guys (excluding Jones), they’re all very bright. Football is important to them,” Belichick said. “They’ve all been productive. They’re unselfish players. They work hard for the team. They do a lot of little things in the game like communication and special teams and all those types of things. So there’s a common thread: they’re football guys that work hard at it, that have had good careers there and that continue to get better because it’s important to them. And they’re smart, instinctive players.”
This isn’t the first time the Patriots have reached into the Scarlet Knights’ program for players, either. Defensive back Devin McCourty started the trend as a first-round pick in 2010. Defensive end Alex Silvestro continued it in 2011, signing as an undrafted free agent, and defensive lineman Justin Francis followed suit, joining on after the draft, just last year. In each case, it wasn’t about the players donning scarlet jerseys on their backs, but the skills they possessed and the qualities that were ingrained in them during their four years at Rutgers. The same goes for these four players, too.
The Patriots are still serious championship contenders and plan to be for at least a few more seasons. The coaching staff knows it will need some key contributions from younger players, including rookies, in order to continue at such a high level. So, adding players who already have a base knowledge of the system and the type of program the Patriots run is crucial.
Ryan should be given every opportunity to play a consistent role in the secondary. Harmon will have his chances to contribute on defense, but it’s likely that he, Beauharnais and Jones will all make their primary contributions on special teams. Whatever their contributions, it’s their ability to seamlessly transition into the program that is most important.
Just as with every other move Belichick makes, the draft is all about value. The Patriots just value players differently than most teams, and their recent infatuation with Rutgers is a clear sign of exactly the type of players they would label with that designation.