Jordan Richards breaks up a pass in last year’s Stanford-UCLA game. Richards was taken 64th overall by the Patriots. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
If you’re a defensive back who leaves college with a seal of approval from Duane Akina, you’re doing something right.
In more than 30 seasons as a defensive coach at the college level — including stints at Hawaii, Arizona and Texas — he’s carved out a rep as one of the best in his field. In his 13 seasons at Texas, he coached 14 All-Big 12 defensive backs and two Thorpe Award winners. Ten of his former Longhorn defensive backs played in the NFL in 2013, including Earl Thomas, Quentin Jammer, Aaron Ross and Michael Huff.
And after spending a year with safety Jordan Richards — who was taken 64th overall in the draft out of Stanford by the Patriots earlier this month — he believes that Richards could be a part of that same grouping.
“In my first week here, when I was going through things, I heard a lot about him. I watched 12 games, and thought I had a feel for how good he was an how important he was to the defense,” said Akina, looking back at the start of his first year with Stanford. “I quickly found out that if Jordan made a call and somebody else thought it was a different call, well, we should just do what Jordan said.
“He played a huge role in helping me out with the language. A lot of the things we did in practice and Texas, we also do here at Stanford, but when it came to making specific calls in the right situations when it comes to checks and things like that, I was blessed that Jordan was there,” Akina added. “I made sure he called out every defense. It got to a point in the meeting room where I would ask the guys a question, and I would have to say, ‘Jordan, you can’t say a thing,’ because everyone was just waiting for Jordan to make the call.”
The 5-foot-11, 211-pound Richards was a first-team All-Pac 12 in 2014. In four seasons with Stanford, he played in 54 games, with 152 tackles (13 for a loss) with one sack and nine picks. His smarts, versatility and open-field tackling skills were all part of what made him an absolutely integral part of the Stanford defense.
But the numbers were not on par with some of the other high-profile Day 2 draft possibilities, and that was one of the main reasons some were shocked to see Richards go at the end of the second round — most every draft expert had him pegged as a Day 3 selection.
While he acknowledges that his loyalty to his guys occasionally blinds his feelings, the selection of Richards didn’t faze Akina.
“He went exactly where I thought he was going to go — I thought he was a second- or third-round pick,” Akina said of the 22-year-old. “People have no idea. Everyone wants to measure how tall guys are or how fast they are. And some measurables are important. But at the same time, if you understand that Jordan doesn’t run a 4.37 like Earl Thomas, that’s OK, but you also have to understand that he plays at 4.37 speed because of his intellect.
“In a system like the one in New England that will put stress on safeties and their abilities to make the right call at the right time, you just can’t go out and find guys like Jordan. You just can’t find guys like that who make plays like that and have that decision-making ability like he has.”
Akina has worked with thousands of players over the years, but when asked for a comparison, he was quick to put Richards with some of the other defensive backs he mentored while helping to create a legacy at Texas that later gave the label “Defensive Back University” to the Longhorns football program. But given a few more moments, the name he went for wasn’t a defensive back, but another unheralded defender who became great through film study, preparation and work ethic who he had the opportunity to coach when he was a defensive coordinator while at Arizona in the early 1990s.
“I equate Jordan to Tedy Bruschi, who I worked with at Arizona. Tedy was too short and too slow, and he came from Arizona. Arizona? That’s not Ohio State,” Akina said with a laugh. “But he became a great pro because of things you can’t measure in black and white.
“Look, the bottom line is that the Pac-12 is as good a conference as you’ll find, especially for a defensive back, because it’s filled with triggermen. He’s been looking at some of the best quarterbacks in the college game the last few years, and he did an excellent job. To me, it’s no surprise he went where he did.”
Looking forward, Richards will enter a system where he’ll have an opportunity to gain playing tine right out of the box. Initially, he will likely make his bones as a special teamer, but at the same time, he will challenge the likes of Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson and Patrick Chung for playing time at the safety spot. An ability to fill multiple roles in the secondary will serve him well in his quest to get on the field as soon as possible, and even though he’s was pegged as a box safety by some draft pundits, Akina says, well, the Patriots will likely think outside the box when it comes to utilizing his skill set.
“We asked our safeties to do quite a bit. He has ability and flexibility — he’s not just a box safety. He can be a physical guy. He can line up in the slot and play man coverage,” Akina said. “It’s an insult to call him a box safety. As a collegian, he worked hard on all aspects of defensive back play, including man coverage. He’s been engaged in a lot of concepts.”
Ultimately, Akina believes his background with those multiple concepts, combined with his smarts and tenacious attitude when it comes to film study and prep work, will end up justifying the second-round selection of his latest prodigy.
“I’ve coached some safeties over the years,” Akina said, “and I think everybody in New England will be pleased with Jordan.”
WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia and Chris Price discuss the start of Patriots OTAs and the rookies' first taste of the NFL.
[0:01:35] ... a conversation with making alas they about Richards. He compared him to TedyBruschi now a wild exactly different position. But we you're talking about the overall approach to the game you're talking about a desire to be great you're talking about a desire to. I'll work everyone in the weight room. Out work everyone when it comes to watching film just be smarter in be able to anticipate things in makeup for any sort of physical deficiencies I know that's high praise they're north almost heresy. To sit here. In the shadow of the patriots hall of fame and compare guy who has taken a snap in the National Football League get to TedyBruschi but that's where we are we you know what's interesting about that Chris is a lot of people on we were talking about this off camera. Thought that TedyBruschi was drastically over draft them. By the patriots and a lot of people said the same about Jordan Richard CIA in this ... [0:03:58] ... to it you look back it picks. They mean 200120032004. Guys like TyWarrenVinceWilfork Richard Seymour. Those big. Defense of linemen ghost homesteaders upfront I'm fascinated to see how Malcolm brown can work one of the ... [0:04:32] ... he doesn't try to bite off too much and try to replace VinceWilfork. And he told us that he has a lot of veterans helping them in that effort and I think you I think ... [0:06:27] ... last month and a half here at Gillette Stadium. What happens with TomBrady I think any day now we expect a meeting between TomBrady. His representatives. The NFL PA and Roger Goodell in New York I think ultimately they're gonna have deep they're going to be ...
Bill Belichick and Saints coach Sean Payton held joint practices at Gillette Stadium prior to their preseason game in 2012, and it looks like they will be doing it again, this time this summer in West Virginia at the Greenbrier resort.
According to Pro Football Talk, the Saints and Patriots will have three practices in West Virginia prior to the August 22 preseason game between the two teams. The game is in New Orleans so after practicing in West Virginia, they will both travel down to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the game.
New Orleans began practicing at the Greenbrier in 2014, providing them an environment with lower temperatures and humidity.
The Patriots had joint practices last season with the Redskins in Washington and the Eagles in Foxboro.
Another player is showing their support for Tom Brady.
Even though running back Shane Vereen is now a member of the Giants, the former Patriot is coming out in defense of his former quarterback. Vereen said he had no knowledge of the Patriots’ footballs being deflated.
“I had no awareness of anything that was going on,” Vereen said to the New York Daily News Wednesday. “I looked up to Tom. I still do. I think he’s a great player. I have the utmost respect for him as a player and as a person. I guess everything will sort itself out.”
Vereen said Brady was one of the first players to reach out to him after he signed with the Giants for three years and just over $12 million.
In regards to Deflategate, some have noted the Patriots’ fumble numbers as they are among the lowest in the league. Vereen said that is a byproduct of hard work in practice.
“We work very hard at our craft,” Vereen said. “We work very hard at holding onto the ball. We did ball drills every day, and I think that’s more a product of us and our hard work.”
FOXBORO — Malcom Brown, like the rest of the 2015 Patriots rookie class, is learning fast.
He’s learning a new system. He’s learning a new way of life. And he’s learning about what Bill Belichick expects on a daily basis from his players.
Brown, the first-round (No. 32 overall) pick of the Patriots, was asked about his first impressions of Belichick Wednesday during his introductory press conference on the Gillette Stadium field.
“Great guy. He’s my new coach now and he shows everybody a lot of love ‘ tough love ‘ and sometimes you need that,” Brown said.
Something else that will come in handy – that Belichick will no doubt emphasize – is the value of wearing ear muffs and blinders whenever the news comes on. Blocking out distractions like Deflategate has always been a trademark of a Belichick-coached team. Brown has had the advantage of not being in tune with controversy as he is focused on doing what it takes to impress as a rookie.
“I haven’t really been focusing towards that,” Brown said. “I’m just here to work. That’s all I’ve been focusing on is getting better every day and learning the material and getting better and working hard.”
As for his boss’s boss, Brown was asked what was it like to walk through the offices with Robert Kraft and Jonathan Kraft on Wednesday for his press conference.
“It was great,” Brown beamed. “Those guys are at the top of the food chain. It’s great being around those guys. They sign my paycheck. It’s fun when you have somebody that’s like that, not just stuck up in an office and won’t to talk to you. They’re guys that will just sit there and talk to you.”
Despite coming in as a first round pick, Brown also made a point Wednesday that his mind isn’t on replacing Vince Wilfork but rather just working to earn his way onto the roster.
“I haven’t really thought about replacing anyone,” Brown said. “I’m just here to work. I can’t stress that enough, just compete every day and work because nothing is given to you.”
Here were some other takeaways Wednesday:
Q: What jersey number will you wear?
MB: I really don’t know right now. All we are in is blue shirts and grey shirts.
Q: With those blue shirts and grey shirts, is it hard to get to know your guys?
MB: It just forces you to learn everybody’s name. It forces you to know people because, how are you going to communicate with people you don’t know.
Q: How helpful was it to learn a different defensive system last year at Texas in preparing you for the NFL?
MB: It’s just reality now. I talked to some guys before I came in here, and they were like, you could be here one day and you’re gone the next. That goes for anybody in the building, so there’s not one person that’s safe. You’ve got to just keep your mind open and be adaptable to what’s thrown at you.
Q: Have you thought about what it will be like to run on to the field at Gillette Stadium for the first time as a Patriot?
MB: I’m not really focused on that right now. I’m just out there trying to practice with the guys, getting to know people and making sure I’ve got everything down.
Q: Did you have a fan moment when you got here, kind of amazed at the famous players around you?
MB: Not really. I can’t be a good teammate if I’m focused on all that stuff, this and that. I just go to work. I just use their work ethic to help mine and adapt to theirs because they work hard every day and go to work.
Q: What has Foxboro been like?
MB: It’s great. Foxborough is a great place to be ‘ quiet, country. You know, I’m from the country, so I’ll adapt to this area real well.
Q: Will your friends switch allegiances now that you’ve been drafted by the Patriots?
MB: Everybody was happy. I’ve got to let all that go. That was a one-time thing, the draft day, and I’ll just focus everything on coming in here and going to work.
Q: How are your friends going to handle this, though?
MB: They can handle it how they want. I’m not with them right now. I’m up here with my new teammates and guys that I have to become friends with now. That’s all that really matters to me.
Q: Your old coaches say that you’re a family man. Where does that come from and how does it help you on the football field?
MB: It just motivates me to play harder and just work harder every day. Family is a real important thing to me because I believe family should stick together. People rely on me, and I want to rise to the occasion.
Q: Have any teammates talked to you about the experience last year in the Super Bowl?
MB: Not really. They’re just like us. They come here to work every day and they want us to have the right mindset going into next year. Nobody is really talking about last year; they’re talking about the now and the future. They want to work hard, going forward and getting better next year.
Q: Are there any expectations for you to come in and contribute to a championship defense?
MB: Not really. I think the only expectation for me is just to work hard, just as it is for everybody else on the team. They just want everyone to work hard and give it all every day and to leave it all on the field or leave it all in the weight room.
On Wednesday, the man who will help replace Vince Wilfork admitted getting some unwanted attention over that bold proclamation.
“There’s a lot that’s been going on with all that but I just can’t focus on it,” Brown said. “I’m not really trying to. I’m just trying to work hard, contribute to the team and do whatever I’m asked to do.”
But Brown said he hasn’t been getting too much grief from his new Patriots teammates since everyone is too busy working and trying to get ready for OTAs.
“Everybody is just really focused,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot going on right now, with OTAs. Everybody is just trying to learn, get better and work hard.”
Brown said not even Tom Brady gave him any serious grief about it.
“Nah. Actually, I just walked up to Tom, shook his hand and went to work. Everybody is trying to work right now,” Brown said. “It’s easy to learn right now because we’re doing everything stage by stage. Everybody is just trying to really focus and work towards being better [this] year.
“Obviously, there’s not one perfect player in the NFL but you can also work and get better at many things. After practice, whatever my coaches think I need work on that’s what I will take it to [heart] and will spend my own time working on that, after weights or after practice, get my own time in.”
If there’s one theme Brown kept repeating over and over it was the “hard work” needed to acclimate to the Patriots system in Foxboro.
“This is a great honor to be here and just to contribute to a team that’s hard-working and get in the program and work with them,” he said. “You get in here and I got in here two weeks ago and right from the get-go you see the hard work and you see everything that’s thrown at you. You have to grasp it and go.
“I just had to focus and get ready to go to work. Really, it’s just getting in with the guys and everybody is taking you under their wing and everybody wants you to work hard out there. You really have no choice but to work hard because everybody is going to compete.”
The biggest help Brown said he has had so far is from veterans who already know what is expected to get ready to defend the Super Bowl title.
“Very welcoming,” Brown said of the vets. “Everybody wants somebody that will work hard and help the team win games. As long as you have that mindset, everybody is happy with you. Everything is fast but everybody helps and contributes to helping you learn everything and get on track with the vets.
“I just really want to work hard and just become the best player I can be, and wherever may lead me, that’s where it will lead. But right now, just trying to work hard.”
Brown has moved up to New England but his family, which includes his wife and two children are still back in Texas.
“Whenever we have time, I’ll get them up here and we’ll start look for houses,” Brown said. “As of right now, I’m just trying to work and focus on what I’m doing. I have more than me to support right now. There’s a lot of people depending on what I have to do and it motivates to play hard and just to work hard just because I have people leaning on me.”