FOXBOROUGH — While teammates at Michigan, receiver Jeremy Gallon and linebacker Cameron Gordon both recall a visit last season from a former Wolverine, who preached that hard work and dedication might someday lead them to the NFL.
Gallon and Gordon have reached the league, and now they’re teammates with Tom Brady. Small world?
“It’s not weird at all. To me I think it’s a blessing,” said Gallon, who should soon find himself on the receiving end of Brady passes. Gallon led Michigan in receiving each of the past two seasons, and set a Big Ten record with 369 receiving yards against Indiana.
What does Gallon, whom the Patriots selected with a seventh-round pick (No. 244 overall) in last week’s draft, remember about that on-campus speech by Brady?
“He was a late-round draft pick, he came here and he was determined for greatness. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get where he is, and I just want to follow in his footsteps,” said Gallon, who met the media Thursday on the Gillette Stadium field, along with other recent Patriots draft picks and rookie signees. “What I got from that speech is to have hard work and dedication, don’t give up on your dream, and no matter what round you get picked in, continue to play football. Come here, learn what you’ve got to learn, and when you get your opportunity, take advantage of it.”
Gordon heard a different message. But as a team captain, he took Brady’s words to heart.
“He just talked about leadership and really seizing the opportunity. Those were the two things that stood out to me,” said Gordon, who signed as an undrafted free agent. “Being a captain in college — which is over — but taking it all in and try to receive everything is really what I tried to do.”
It’s a special time
Time and again, Bill Belichick has noted that a Patriots player saw his playing time with the offense or defense increase thanks to his performance on special teams.
Rookie linebacker Deontae Skinner could become one of those players.
Skinner, a Mississippi State product whom New England signed as an undrafted free agent, was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs at outside linebacker, but he also embraced the opportunity to contribute in the third phase of the game.
“I love special teams. You get to show the coaches what you can do . . . it makes you more valuable,” Skinner said, adding that he played on the kickoff, kickoff return, and punt teams.
For an undrafted guy trying to make the roster, that’s a good mentality to have.
Last fall, Bulldogs defensive coordinator Geoff Collins got choked up talking about the 6-foot-1-inch, 250-pound Skinner, calling him “the most favorite player that I’ve ever coached in my entire career.”
New England needs depth at linebacker with veterans Brandon Spikes (Buffalo) and Dane Fletcher (Tampa Bay) now with other teams, but Skinner still has to put in the work to show he belongs.
“My expectation was whatever team takes me I’m going to go there. I just come in, I want to work. I want to show the coaching staff what I can do,” Skinner said. “The drafted/undrafted thing, that wasn’t a big deal to me, I just want to be able to get a chance.
“I played inside and outside in college. I have no preference. It’s pretty much the same — every guy pretty much has the same job, it’s just different on different plays and things like that. I’ll play anywhere coach wants me to play.”
Skinner has talked a bit with fellow linebackers and SEC products Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower, who stressed to him that football is a job now, and that everything must be taken seriously.
Center of attenion
Even though three-plus rounds and more than 100 picks had been made, Bryan Stork still liked his chances of being selected by the Patriots. The beefy center said he had a premonition.
“In my gut I had a feeling, so it worked out the way I wanted it to,” Stork said. “Just glad to be here, ready to learn, and get better as a player.”
What indications did Stork have that New England might be a logical landing spot?
“Just giving interviews, I felt good about it. I liked the feeling I got from the staff,” said Stork, who was an All-American at Florida State, helped the Seminoles win the national championship last season, and won the Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center.
Now he’s set to join an offensive line that returns all five starters and its top three reserves. But the fourth-round pick (No. 105 overall) sounds ready to find his spot and fit right in.
“I know about their history and all that stuff,” Stork said. “They’re all great players, hard workers, very intelligent players, and I’m just trying to catch up to be up to their level.”
A fair number of young players arriving in New England, whether they play quarterback or not, get a little star-struck around Brady in their early days.
Travis Hawkins feels a bit like that about a new teammate, but for the speedy cornerback, it’s Darrelle Revis.
“Revis is someone I admired coming up, so it’s crazy seeing him in the locker room,” said Hawkins, quickly adding, “but I’m going to learn from everybody.”
The Patriots rookies may have a lot to learn on the field, but they all picked up one early lesson quickly: praise everyone. When Hawkins was asked about Revis specifically, he deflected the question like one of the eight pass breakups he had last year.
“I watched Revis — who hasn’t watched Revis coming up?” he said. “But I’m here to learn from everybody. Everyone has their little techniques here and there and I want to pick up all the good ones.”
Hawkins, who signed as an undrafted free agent, played his final three seasons at Delaware after beginning his college career at Maryland. He impressed scouts at the Blue Hens’ pro day with his 4.37-second 40-yard dash, 6.8-second three-cone drill, and 20 reps on the bench press, all of which would have put him among the top performers at his position had he been invited to the Combine.
Hawkins (5-9, 192 pounds) had 66 tackles and four interceptions his final season. But he may prove of greater value to New England as a kick returner: He averaged 25.6 yards per return in 39 career opportunities, with two touchdowns. Last year, Hawkins had nine returns for 247 yards (27.4 yards per) and a touchdown.
Moore signs on
On Thursday, Zach Moore became the first member of the Patriots’ 2014 draft class to sign a contract. The sixth-round pick, a 6-6, 269-pound defensive lineman from Division 2 Concordia, received a four-year deal worth just over $2.3 million, including a $110,000 signing bonus. The deal was announced via Twitter by Moore’s agent, Blake Baratz. The collective bargaining agreement from 2011 instituted a wage scale for rookie contracts, so they are now fairly formulaic, leading to them being signed quite quickly . . . The Patriots released tight end Tyler Beck and long snapper Charley Hughlett. Beck was signed on Monday as a rookie free agent out of Bowling Green and Hughlett, a first-year player, signed in March.