FOXBOROUGH — Almost immediately after being selected by the Patriots in the third round of the NFL draft April 26, Logan Ryan took a congratulatory cellphone call from Duron Harmon, his Rutgers teammate and close friend.
Roughly 20 minutes after that, it was Ryan’s turn to call Harmon, who had been grabbed by the Patriots eight picks later. Same team, same round, same result, same phone conversation. The two defensive backs shared in the excitement, surprise, and satisfaction of continuing their football odyssey together.
It’s only gotten better. Six games into their rookie seasons, Ryan and Harmon not only made the Patriots roster out of training camp, but they’re contributing on special teams and, when needed, on defense. Both played a season-high number of defensive snaps in last Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Saints, and with Aqib Talib’s availability for Sunday’s game against the Jets up in the air, they might see the field even more, especially Ryan.
They might be young — born 16 days apart in 1991 — and inexperienced, but Ryan and Harmon are adjusting to life in the NFL, much as they did four years ago, when they were members of the same recruiting class at Rutgers.
“We talked before the draft and said how good it would be to play on the same team again, and for it to happen again, it’s exciting and it’s a blessing,” Harmon said. “It’s great [we’re contributing], because at the end of the day you want to play, and to contribute to a team like this, it’s fun.”
Harmon was inactive for the season opener, but has played in all five games since. He played 14 of 65 defensive snaps against the Saints, and was credited with one tackle. He has four tackles on the season.
Ryan didn’t make any tackles last Sunday — he had three in each game against the Buccaneers, Falcons, and Bengals — but logged a season-high 32 defensive snaps. He’s third on the depth chart at left cornerback, behind Talib and Marquice Cole, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury.
Some of those 32 snaps found Ryan lined up opposite star Saints tight end Jimmy Graham — after Talib left with a hip injury — and Ryan more than held his own. For the game, Graham had no receptions.
If the 22-year-old from Berlin, N.J., spent any time thinking about what was happening, he didn’t acknowledge it.
“You try not to, not during the game, because you’re so focused on doing your job,” Ryan said. “Maybe one day I’ll look back on it and say, ‘Man, my rookie year I got to guard this guy or that guy.’ But right now I’m just taking it all in and sticking to whoever’s in front of me.”
Both Ryan and Harmon are discovering how different the NFL is from college football. Speed is faster. Talent is better and deeper. Fortunately, they’re surrounded in the secondary by players with plenty of NFL mileage: Steve Gregory is in his eighth season, Talib his sixth, Kyle Arrington his fifth, Devin McCourty his fourth. They’ve been there and know what to expect, so they’ve been quick to lend a hand.
“It’s totally different than college,” said Gregory. “There you’re going to class, hanging out with your friends, and there’s a lot of away-from-football time.
“Now, you come here in the morning, and we’re football all day: film study, getting together with guys, practice, having meetings. The grind of that is something that as a rookie coming in, they’re not necessarily prepared for because they’ve never been through it.
“[Ryan and Harmon are] maturing each and every week. They’re very coachable guys, willing to learn, eager to learn, and they really care about winning and doing things the right way.”
Harmon, who calls Magnolia, Del., home, is slightly bigger than Ryan, and backs up Gregory and McCourty at safety. He’s had his buddy’s back, quite literally, for four-plus seasons on the field, starting with their days in Piscataway, where they first met while on their recruiting visit in 2008.
Success followed, with both earning all-Big East honors and working their way onto the NFL’s radar as the draft neared. Instant teammates when they enrolled at Rutgers, they became fast friends. Their girlfriends are good friends, too, so they do a lot of socializing together.
Fate now has brought Ryan and Harmon to Foxborough. But they don’t intend to stop working now that they’ve arrived. If anything, working harder might lead to them playing more.
“I know that the better I practice, the more I’ll play,” Ryan said. “I just know that I’m the type of guy that will be as prepared as possible, so I felt like if I took notes in every meeting, studied when I got home, practiced hard every day, it’s going to be what it’s going to be.
“There are thousands if not millions of people who want to be in your position and there are very limited spots, so you’ve got to come prepared every single day and embrace that challenge if you want to maintain your spot.”
It’s been easy to overlook Ryan and Harmon. They don’t get a whole bunch of snaps, and neither has made the kind of impact play that brings attention. So far, they’re content with whatever roles they’ve been given.
“We’re 5-1, I’m playing some here and there, and I get to learn behind two good safeties in Steve and Dev,” Harmon said. “I can’t complain.”