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These Pats feeling a Rutgers vibe - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

These Pats feeling a Rutgers vibe

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Posted: Sunday, April 28, 2013 12:00 am

FOXBORO - The jokes started coming almost as soon as the last pick was announced.

"New England Scarlet Knights," said one national pundit. "The Patriots are applying for Big 10 membership next year," said another.

And of course, it was frequently asked why Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, who was the coach of Rutgers University's football team until a year ago, didn't pick any of his own former athletes while Bill Belichick picked three for the Patriots.

But Belichick and Schiano had built a cozy relationship during the latter's tenure at Rutgers, and the trust between them was plainly evident in Belichick's decision to take three players from the same school for the first time since 2010 (Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez from Florida).

"It's coincidental to a degree," Belichick said Saturday after the conclusion of the 78th annual NFL Draft. "I've known Coach Schiano for a while and the players that he recruits and the program that he runs is, in a lot of ways, similar to what we do. So the fact that he's recruited those kids four or five years ahead of when they come into this league, and have been in a program that's in a lot of ways similar to ours, it's probably not that surprising that we would like some of the kids that he's produced."

The triumvirate from the state university of New Jersey was completed Saturday when the Patriots, with the 235th overall selection, took inside linebacker Steve Beauharnais. He joined two Rutgers defensive backs taken on the second day, cornerback Logan Ryan (83rd overall) and safety Duron Harmon (91st), in Belichick's effort to add scarlet-hued depth to his defense.

"With this group, they're all pretty bright," Belichick said. "They've all been productive. They're unselfish players, they work hard for the team and they do a lot of the little things in the game.

"There's a common thread; they're football guys that work hard at it and have had good careers there and continue to improve because football is important to them," he added.

Beauharnais, a 6-1, 240-pounder and native of Saddle Brook, N.J., sounded pretty business-like in his conference call with the New England media, letting them know that they were interrupting his class work. But he admitted to being good friends with Belichick's son, Stephen, who was a long-snapper for the Scarlet Knights before joining his father on the Patriots' coaching staff.

Beauharnais said his dedication to class work was equaled by his approach to football learning.

"Well, it's film study," he said. "I put a lot of hard work and dedication into my craft and just by being a sponge around everybody and putting extra time in, I became pretty good at that."

Of the seven players drafted over Friday and Saturday, Belichick certainly tipped his hand as to what he thought his biggest need was. In outside linebacker Jamie Collins of Southern Mississippi, Illinois defensive end-outside linebacker Michael Buchanan and Beauharnais, he stated a clear intention to stoke up the pass rush. Even Beauharnais, an inside linebacker by trade, has the quickness and ferocity to get to the quarterback if called upon. And all of them have the apparent ability to drop back in coverage.

But that's not to say that the offense was neglected.

Belichick got two receivers with potential field-stretching ability, Aaron Dobson of Marshall on Friday with the 59th overall pick, and Josh Boyce of Texas Christian with No. 102, Saturday's first Patriot selection and fifth overall.

Belichick also netted another running back, although not in the draft. Apparently fed up with Jeff Demps' lack of commitment to a football career that hadn't even started yet, he traded the U.S. Olympic sprinter to his buddy in Tampa Bay in return for the fallen-from-grace LeGarrette Blount.

Indeed, the resolution of the Demps conundrum was probably the highlight of Saturday's "action."

Demps, a member of the relay team that won the silver medal in London last year, was signed in August with the intention of turning him into a kickoff return threat unlike anything the Patriots have ever had. He played in just one preseason game, against the New York Giants, before suffering a knee injury and going on injured reserve.

Recently, Demps announced his intentions to continue his track-and-field career and to treat football as a part-time vocation. That obviously did not set well with Belichick, who expected the former Florida speedster to make a deeper commitment to football.

Belichick had already taken steps to solve the problem by signing Leon Washington, late of the Seattle Seahawks, as his return specialist for the upcoming season. The question is whether it was more expensive for Belichick to dispatch Demps than he might have liked. The deal with Tampa Bay for running back LeGarrette Blount also included one of the Patriots' three seventh-round picks (No. 229, obtained Friday from Minnesota), and it did not create additional draft currency.

The jury is also out on how valuable Blount will be.

As a rookie out of Oregon, Blount rushed for 1,007 yards in 13 games for the Buccaneers. But his role has been reduced in each of the past two seasons, and last year he carried just 41 times for 151 yards while newcomer Doug Martin earned all-rookie honors.

Blount also has a history of confrontations with coaches and players dating back to college. But since this deal was worked out between Belichick and Schiano, it's assumed that Belichick is convinced that the character issues can be managed.

Blount will likely compete with Brandon Bolden (who served a four-game PED suspension last year) for the last roster spot from the position group. But if the Patriots get anything at all out of Blount, it will be more than Belichick felt they were going to get from Demps.

Boyce may eventually become the field-stretching receiver that will take Tom Brady to a comfortable and happy retirement, but he'll have a lot of growing up to do first.

The draft pundits acknowledge Boyce's speed (4.38 in the 40) and obvious athletic ability, but there are plenty of apparent flaws - not much commitment to blocking (called "lazy" by Pro Football Weekly), timed speed that doesn't always translate to on-field speed, lapses in concentration that result in drops and a steady decrease in yards per catch over his career.

Yet Boyce has displayed awareness and intelligence on the field - he already had his degree in sociology and thus entered the draft as a junior that had no need to play on - and the structured environment of the Patriots may be what he needs to bring the best out of him.

"I'm really smart so I think I can pick up things pretty quick," Boyce said in a conference call. "I see a lot of things before they happen, so I think my mind is what's working for me a lot of times."

Boyce, a native of Copperas Cove, Texas (near Fort Hood), also has been helped along the way by having good quarterbacks throwing at him. Robert Griffin III was his high school teammate and Andy Dalton was his QB at Texas Christian, and now he makes the move to Tom Brady (with whom he shares Los Angeles-based agent Don Yee).

"It's great," he said. "All three of them are great guys, great quarterbacks. I've been blessed to play with great quarterbacks my whole career."

Buchanan was rated by some draft "experts" as worthy of selection in the third or fourth rounds, and may have dropped because of an "altercation" he had in June of last year that resulted in a broken jaw. He also had a DUI arrest two years earlier.

"The jaw situation was a bad time in my life, but I learned a lot from it," he said in a conference call. "I think I became a better man from it and I just hope it will never happen again."

He certainly sounded like someone that appreciated the opportunity he has.

"This was a childhood dream of mine with an organization I always wanted to be with, so it's definitely a great feeling. It's truly a blessing," he said.

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