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Patriots rookies find support in Rutgers connection

Patriots cornerback Brandon Jones (right) has been able to lean on fellow rookie Jamie Collins, as well as a number of former Rutgers teammates.

michael dwyer/associated press

Patriots cornerback Brandon Jones (right) has been able to lean on fellow rookie Jamie Collins, as well as a number of former Rutgers teammates.

FOXBOROUGH — As Brandon Jones ducked into the huddle during Patriots rookie minicamp on Friday, he did so with the added level of comfort that came with having three of his former Rutgers teammates by his side.

The Patriots selected three Scarlet Knights — cornerback Logan Ryan (83d overall), safety Duron Harmon (91st), and linebacker Steve Beauharnais (235th) — in last weekend’s draft and then added Jones, the 6-foot-1-inch cornerback who went undrafted.

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Having three recent teammates already with the Patriots made the decision to come to New England “a no-brainer” for Jones, who said he had other teams interested in his services.

“It’s felt similar [to how things were at Rutgers],” said Jones, who led the team with five interceptions last season. “We were in the huddle there and I turned around and it was all three of them next to me.

“You know that feeling where you’re not really sure what you’re doing yet. And you kind of look to those guys to encourage you and push you along the right path.”

Along with Devin McCourty (Class of 2010) and Justin Francis (2012), there are six Scarlet Knights on the roster currently, and all play on the defensive side of the ball. For the new quartet, there have been definite moments of déjá vu.

“You’re starting at the bottom and trying to learn the defense and just trying to figure out your role on this team,” said Harmon, who earned All-Big East honors his junior and senior seasons. “It’s definitely like starting over freshman year here.”

Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano (now in his second season as coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Patriots coach Bill Belichick have long been friends.

“I see a lot of similarities [between Belichick and Schiano],” Harmon said. “I see where Coach Schiano got some of his sayings and the structure of his program from and it just feels, literally, like Rutgers.’’

The commonalities don’t end with Belichick. Francis and McCourty each played with all four of the rookies at Rutgers.

“It’s good seeing familiar faces,” said Jones, who shared an apartment with McCourty for a semester before the Patriots drafted him three years ago. “I think when you go into a new place it’s sometimes difficult because you don’t know anybody, but coming here with Devin and Justin Francis and the guys that I’m coming in this year with, it’s definitely a blessing being in that situation.”

By all accounts, McCourty acted as a second coach to many of the Scarlet Knights during his time in college, a role it seems the Patriots safety will get to reprise whether he wants to or not.

“I told [McCourty] that I’m going to get on his nerves,” Jones said. “I’m going to be picking his brains like he can’t even imagine, but I’m excited to just have the opportunity and be a part of this organization.”

The way Ryan looks at it, people can attribute the high number of Rutgers players drafted by the Patriots to Belichick’s relationship with Schiano if they want, but he has another theory.

“I don’t think we’re here by coincidence,” said Ryan. “I feel like we’re all talented players. And we’re just trying to get adjusted. We prepare and work very hard.”

For Ryan, getting drafted in the third round and then watching as three were picked up by the same team made for a weekend worth celebrating. However, before Saturday night had come to an end, he sent a text message to his teammates.

It simply read: “It’s time to work.”

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