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Jordan Richards picking up Patriots defense

Rookie safety has impressed

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Patriots strong safety Jordan Richards has impressed his teammates and coaches at training camp.

By Shalise Manza Young Globe Staff 

FOXBOROUGH — Monday was a mandatory day off from the practice field for the Patriots, but through the first four days of training camp, only one player can claim he has intercepted either Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo in team drills:

Rookie safety Jordan Richards.

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New England’s second-round pick, a Stanford product with local roots, Richards picked off Garoppolo on the first day of camp during a seven-on-seven goal-line drill.

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It wasn’t the only time Richards has made a solid play — Saturday, the 5-foot-11-inch defensive back broke up a pass intended for 6-7 tight end Scott Chandler.

When Richards was drafted, the book on him was that he is highly intelligent, serving as a coach on the field for the Cardinal. It’s early, but his teammates already have taken notice.

“I think the thing that sticks out the most about him is he’s a very smart guy,” fellow safety Devin McCourty said. “I think he’s a guy that’s hungry, and he came in Day 1 knowing as much as possible for a rookie and the thing is, we just stay on him to keep playing through mistakes.

“He’s so smart and understands so much that he hasn’t made very many mistakes, but he’s still a rookie and we just tell him to keep playing and he’s doing a great job so far.”

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Richards’s early progress is even more impressive since he couldn’t participate in much of New England’s spring work because of Stanford’s academic calendar. By NFL rules, he wasn’t able to join the team until the second week of June, after the school’s graduation ceremonies.

“He’s a smart kid, picks things up quickly, and he seems to be a pretty instinctive player,” coach Bill Belichick said, after noting the time Richards had to miss. “He has a good feel for the ball and awareness. He’s a good communicator back there.”

Asked about feeling as though he has to play catchup, Richards shrugged it off as part of the rookie process.

“Everything is new to me. A lot of these guys have played a lot of football,” he said Saturday. “I’m entering camp No. 1, this is Day 3 and I’m just trying to get better every day. So it’s not where I am in relation to everybody else, I’m just trying to play mistake-free football.”

Richards’s father, Terry, was born in Jamaica Plain and played football at Natick High, moving on to play at Tufts for four years. He moved to California shortly after graduating; Jordan grew up in Folsom, near Sacramento.

The elder Richards was present for the opening days of camp, wearing head-to-toe Stanford gear on the first day, and mixing in some Folsom High gear on the second (he has coached the freshman football team at the school).

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Jordan Richards wore No. 8 at Stanford, but he can’t wear that number in the NFL at his position. So he’s been given No. 37, worn most recently by Alfonzo Dennard, but most famously by Rodney Harrison during his six years with the team.

“I know who wore it, I [learned] my history,” Richards said. “Obviously that’s a guy that’s played a lot of good football for this organization and earned a lot of respect around the league, so for me, it’s being the best football player I can be, but I know the legacy that he set here in this number.”

Harrison was a hard-hitting, highly respected player for the Patriots, a key member of two Super Bowl winners. No one is predicting that for Richards at this point, but he’s off to a good start.

Asked if he believes Richards can become a defensive leader, even as a rookie, McCourty believes it’s possible.

“Coach Belichick always talks about being a leader is pretty simple: it’s all about your attitude and your performance. You bring the right attitude every day, you go out there and compete and perform. Your teammates will respect that and they’ll listen to you,” McCourty said. “They know you know what you’re doing.

“And to play safety, you have to know what you’re doing because other guys are relying on you to communicate and do things, so I think he understands that and accepts that role and challenge of coming in and being a leader.”

Richards believes it’s all in the attitude.

“When you step on the field here, you have to have confidence and you have to have confidence in the calls you make, whether they’re right or wrong,” he said. “In the end you earn the respect of your teammates by the way you play.”

.   .   .

The Patriots added one player and waived two. They claimed veteran guard Harland Gunn off waivers from Atlanta. Gunn, 6-2 and 310 pounds, entered the NFL with the Cowboys in 2012 as an undrafted player out of Miami and also has been with the Saints and Falcons. The team waived veteran offensive lineman Kevin Hughes (injured) and rookie defensive lineman Vince Taylor (failed physical). Taylor had been on the physically unable to perform list. Hughes left practice early Saturday with an injury. If Hughes is not claimed on waivers he either will revert to the Patriots’ injured reserve or he could reach an injury settlement with the team.


Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.