FOXBORO, Mass. — Four of the 26 rookies that are getting their first taste of NFL football this week at Patriots rookie mini-camp may be experiencing some deja vu right about now.
Draft picks Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Steve Beauharnais were all true freshmen with the Scarlet Knights during Devin McCourty‘s senior season. Rookie free agent Brandon Jones got to play with McCourty for two years before the Patriots cornerback left for the NFL as the No. 27 overall pick in the 2010 draft. McCourty’s presence as a mentor, leader and teacher, coupled with some more familiar faces around the Patriots facility, including Justin Francis and Steve Belichick, make the Rutgers rookie class of four feel like they’re freshmen in college again.
“It’s very similar. You’re starting at the bottom,” the third-round safety, Harmon said. “You’re trying to learn the defense. You’re just trying to figure out your role on this team and what it’s going to be. So it’s definitely like starting over freshman year again.”
“It does feel similar. It’s definitely such a much higher level and more prestigious place,” Jones said. “Just that feeling of you don’t really know what you’re doing yet. And kinda look to those guys to encourage you and push you along the right path.”
Three of the four Scarlet Knight rookies will get to learn under McCourty in the secondary. Harmon, Jones and Ryan all said McCourty was a player they looked up to at Rutgers, and almost considered him like a coach.
“Devin used to take me off to the side after practices just meet between me and him and just explain the defense to me,” Harmon said. “He’s a very intelligent football player. He always know from the defensive line to the secondary what is going on. I think that’s really what makes him the exceptional player he is.”
Having a player like McCourty to learn from and bounce ideas off of will be important for the new rookies. They have a massive playbook to learn under Belichick and having a player like McCourty or Francis to help relate it to Rutgers can only make them progress faster.
“A guy like Devin is a great example of a guy who came from a system that we came from,” Ryan said. “And he’s a team captain here so I think he’s a great role model in my eyes.”
The similarities between Rutgers and New England don’t stop with some familiar faces. It seems that former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano borrowed some choice phrases from Bill Belichick.
“I see where Schiano got some of his sayings, his structure of the program from,” Harmon said. “It just feels literally like Rutgers,” Harmon said.
Harmon said Schiano and Belichick both stress putting the team first. It’s one of the sayings on the walls at the New Brunswick, N.J., facility and Belichick has already stressed it to the new rookies. And Harmon is buying in.
“It’s very important to have that approach to the game,” Harmon said. “Because teams win the game, you never win the game by yourself. This is a team sport so putting the team first is definitely something I’ve seen in both places.”
No matter how similar the two programs are, the Patriots rookies know they can’t skate by because they feel comfortable in a character-first program.
“A lot about trust, belief and accountability from a character standpoint — that’s the similarities,” Beauharnais said. “New England Patriots and there’s Rutgers, two completely different teams.”
It’s never a bad thing to have a little familiarity in a new situation. And McCourty will give Ryan, Harmon, Beauharnais and Jones that much needed ease as the rookies try to adapt to the pro game as quickly as possible.
Photo via Twitter/@mikerodak