It isn’t the first time Adrian Clayborn has called Matt Tobin and James Ferentz his teammates.
The 29-year-old defensive end, who finished his collegiate career with 37.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks, was a redshirt senior at Iowa when the latter two were redshirt sophomores on the offensive line.
“Yep, I knew them,” Clayborn said on his introductory conference call last Wednesday, via Patriots.com. “They were scout-team players when I was at Iowa. That’s how old I am, but yep, I know those guys.”
Clayborn figures to know a few other guys who’ve stopped by Foxborough, too.
That 2010 Hawkeyes football roster featured a total of nine players who’d go on to spend time with the New England Patriots, including then-backup quarterback AJ Derby, tight end Allen Reisner, offensive tackle Markus Zusevics, and linebackers Jeff Tarpinian and James Morris in addition to Clayborn, Tobin and Ferentz.
All but the final three are elsewhere now.
Though with Clayborn and Tobin signing as unrestricted free agents this March, and Ferentz re-upping on a futures contract in February, Iowa is currently the most-represented program on the Patriots’ roster.
There’s five altogether.
That’s one more than Rutgers, which also got a boost when the Patriots picked up wideout Kenny Britt’s option and acquired a familiar-looking defensive back named Jason McCourty from the Cleveland Browns. It’s two more than Arkansas, and three more than Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Brigham Young, Georgia, Nebraska, Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt have apiece.
“Yeah, we’re trying to fill up with Iowa players,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick joked to reporters at the AFC coaches breakfast earlier this week.
Alongside Clayborn, Tobin and Ferentz are fellow Hawkeyes in wide receiver Riley McCarron and tackle Cole Croston, who both went undrafted last spring and closed the year on the practice squad and 53-man roster, respectively. That handful started a combined 128 games while at Iowa. And Clayborn, twice a first-team All-Big Ten selection and once a consensus All-American, was the only one that did not start out as a walk-on.
They’re the latest transactions reinforcing a long line.
A dozen players who’ve left Iowa City within the last eight years have been Patriots at one point or another since then. Tight end Scott Chandler, linebacker A.J. Edds and cornerback Bradley Fletcher predated that 2010 graduating class but had brief New England stints as well. And running back LeShun Daniels Jr., a rookie free agent last May, was around for training camp before finishing the 2017 campaign with the Washington Redskins.
So when Belichick calls a player a “typical Iowa kid,” he would know better than most. Such a description is more complimentary than it sounds, and not only to the player but to the techniques and the level of consistency that has trickled down to them.
There’s a resemblance.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz – center James’ father – was on Belichick’s Cleveland Browns coaching staff from 1993 through 1995 after being hired by way of the Maine Black Bears. And Kirk’s oldest son, Brian, later worked as a scouting assistant, coaching assistant and tight ends coach for New England across three seasons before returning to the Hawkeyes program in 2012.
“Playing under Ferentz? I mean, it prepared me,” said Clayborn, a Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick in 2011. “It prepares a lot of guys for the league and what that all entails, from him having coached under Belichick. I haven’t had that conversation with him yet about playing under him, but I’m sure it will happen sooner or later.”
Sooner or later, a couple more are sure have that same conversation.