Gator-aid for Patriots


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – With five former University of Florida players at their rookie minicamp, the New England Patriots are looking for a little Gator aid.

The Patriots drafted receiver Chad Jackson in the second round and used one of their three sixth-round selections on linebacker Jeremy Mincey.

Three other Florida products – cornerback Vernell Brown, offensive tackle Randy Hand and safety Jarvis Herring – signed as non-drafted free agents.

“It feels like home,” Jackson said on Saturday. “I think (Coach Bill) Belichick likes those Florida guys a lot.”

Belichick has struck up a friendship with his Florida counterpart, Urban Meyer, who led the Gators to a 9-3 record and an Outback Bowl win over Iowa in his first season.

Belichick, who joked that the Patriots “rented a plane” to bring all the ex-Gators up to New England, said the reunion wasn’t planned.

“I think it’s more coincidental that it worked out that way,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily target one school. I was at other schools (to work players out before the draft) and we didn’t get five guys. I don’t read that much into it.”

The Patriots have three players in camp from Notre Dame, where former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis now coaches.

Guard Dan Stevenson was a sixth-round pick, and receiver Matt Shelton and linebacker Corey Mays signed as non-drafted free agents.

“Coach Weis told me I probably know 80 percent of the (Patriots) offense,” Stevenson said. “It helps me out a little bit in the beginning.”

Belichick said the spread offense Meyer brought with him from Utah to Florida gives Jackson a good base for learning the Patriots’ system.

New England, which traded up in the second round to pick Jackson, is counting on him to help replace David Givens, who left as a free agent.

Jackson said he hasn’t spoken with quarterback Tom Brady yet.

“We’ve been phone tagging,” Jackson said. “I leave a message, he’ll leave a message. He seems like a cool guy. Hopefully one day I’ll get to catch a couple of balls from him. It’ll be lots of fun.”

Mincey fills a need, too. A college defensive end, he is expected to convert to outside linebacker, where the Patriots lost veteran Willie McGinest in free agency.

“He’s got a lot of different skills to work on, a lot of different coverage concepts that he wasn’t involved in” at Florida, Belichick said.

Brown, only 5-foot-8, faces plenty of competition at cornerback. However, his punt-return skills should help him. The Patriots need a replacement for Tim Dwight, who signed with the New York Jets as a free agent.

Asked how he could make a favorable impression at the minicamp, Brown said, “Just come out and play. Good things come to people who work hard.”