FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookies and undrafted free agents got their first taste of the Gillette Stadium field Friday, walking out with eyes wide and grins wider. They were greeted by a throng of reporters on their first full day as members of the team.
“I’m just happy for the opportunity,” said Armond Armstead, the defensive lineman who last played in the Canadian Football League. “Just glad they gave me the opportunity to play in the NFL. And I’m just going to approach it every day and work hard and take advantage of the opportunities I’m given.”
That sentiment was shared by his new teammates.
The Patriots brought in 19 rookie free agents Friday and five more players who were not under contract to join the draft picks for rookie minicamp. For those selected in the draft, even the seventh-rounders, that means the competition will be high.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said defensive lineman Michael Buchanan, who was drafted 226th overall. “I think it provides a lot of competition and I think it forces everybody to work hard and take every day seriously.”
When undrafted cornerback Brandon Jones was signed, he became the fourth rookie from Rutgers on the team. Fellow rookie Duron Harmon, his former teammate at Rutgers, believes Jones can make the team.
“He told me, ‘I’m coming up there with ya’ll,’ ” Harmon said. “I was excited. I was like, ‘You know what you can do. Basically come up, play hard, and if everything goes right, you’re gonna be on the team.’ Because he’s a good player and he works hard.
“I’m excited for him. I know he has a chance to make the squad. That’s why coach [Bill] Belichick brought him up. He didn’t bring him up just for a body. He brought him up because he knows he has a chance to make the squad.”
Not only are Jones, Harmon, Logan Ryan, and Steve Beauharnais all Rutgers players, they’re all Labor Studies majors. It’s difficult to stop connecting the four together.
“I mean, you can talk about it,” Harmon said. “It is what it is. Man, we’re all very close. We’re basically like the same people. You could say we’re all brothers and we all do the same things. These are really my brothers. I would do anything for these guys. I love ’em to death. I love ’em like they came out of my own mother’s womb.”
Ryan asserted as much.
“I’m sure you will,” Ryan said. “But we’re going to keep it real simple with you. I don’t think we’re here by coincidence. I feel like we’re all talented players. And we’re just trying to get adjusted. We prepare and work very hard.
“Speaking for myself, I’m just trying to get myself adjusted as quickly as possible and make sure I become a Patriot for a very long time.”
Beauharnais, an inside linebacker, will have to focus on classwork after the weekend of rookie activities. He was doing geography work and writing an essay on the culture of New Jersey when he got word he was drafted by the Patriots.He still has finals to take.
“I just focus on the task at hand,” Beauharnais said. “Right now I’m here, I’m learning as much as I can, absorbing it like a sponge, just doing the best I can here. When I go back home, I probably have to switch gears to go back to the classroom.”
For all of the new players, this weekend marks the shift to becoming a professional.
“The celebration stopped Saturday when I got to see a whole bunch of my friends get an opportunity,” Ryan said. “A whole bunch of my friends got an opportunity along with me. And then I sent a text out to those guys and said, ‘It’s time to work.’ And we kind of got over it, and Monday we were back to work.”