FOXBORO, Mass. — When the New England Patriots acquire a player, whether in free agency or via trade, just assume he knows Greg Schiano.
That’s the case with linebacker Jonathan Casillas, whom the Patriots acquired Tuesday in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Schiano, then the Rutgers head coach, recruited Casillas, a New Jersey native, out of high school. Casillas attended Wisconsin instead, but the two got their chance to work together when Schiano, by then the Bucs’ head coach, signed the linebacker as a free agent.
The Bucs fired Schiano before the 2014 season, but he attended Patriots training camp practices this summer, and he and New England head coach Bill Belichick are known to have a strong relationship.
Over the last three years, since Belichick’s son Stephen played long snapper under Schiano at Rutgers, the Patriots have acquired so many former Rutgers and Bucs players that we’re no doubt missing a few names from the list: cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Logan Ryan and Aqib Talib; safety Duron Harmon; linebackers Casillas and Steve Beauharnais; tight end Tim Wright; running back LeGarrette Blount; wide receivers Mark Harrison and Tiquan Underwood; and defensive ends Justin Francis and Alex Silvestro. The Patriots also drafted Devin McCourty in 2010 — before the real Belichick-Schiano connection began.
Belichick was mum on how much influence Schiano has on the Patriots’ acquisitions when asked Wednesday.
“I don’t know,” Belichick said. “I’ve talked to Greg about a number of things over the course of the years.”
Belichick was slightly more talkative when asked what the Patriots saw in Casillas when they decided to pull off a trade.
“We’ve known, watched Jonathan for a while,” Belichick said. “Athletic, smart guy, he’s played on defense, he’s played — you know — four-down player. Played defense and in the kicking game, he’s been a productive player in New Orleans and Tampa. We’ve played against him, practiced against him. I have a lot of respect for him and his experience, his versatile skills.”
Casillas, at 6-foot-1, 227 pounds, is one of the smallest linebackers the Patriots have rostered in recent memory. But the Patriots needed linebacker depth after starter Jerod Mayo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 6 against the Buffalo Bills, and Casillas’ athleticism likely will be helpful in pass coverage — an area of weakness over the years for New England linebackers.