FOXBORO - "This isn't college. This is the National Football League."
That's Bill Belichick's go-to line whenever he's asked about players on opposing teams who once played for the Patriots. Rather than get into a discussion as to how his experience with that player might help him in the upcoming game -- or how that player might be able to help his new team beat the Patriots -- Belichick pushes past it.
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Happens almost every week, he insists, and he's right.
This week it goes beyond the roster, though. The Patriots have a handful of former players on the Titans in Logan Ryan, Matt Cassel and Josh Kline, but they also have a former front-office member in Tennessee.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson cut his teeth with the Patriots as an area scout, then climbed the ladder to eventually become Belichick's director of college scouting.
One of Robinson's biggest contributions to the Patriots still resonates in New England, and it's one of the reasons the Patriots are the favorites to win the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year. In 2010, Robinson was in charge of college scouting when he became enamored with a mammoth tight end out of the University of Arizona.
"One of the players that I really liked a lot was Rob Gronkowski," Robinson told Peter Schrager in Robinson's first offseason in Tennessee.
"We went back and forth on him quite a bit. I put a lot of tapes together of him versus Patrick Chung, [Arizona] played Oregon, and he had a really good game that game...He had a really good game against Patrick that game.
"We went back and forth on Rob. We were fortunate enough to end up getting him there in the second round. I wouldn't say that I was the one that found him . . . It wasn't like he was a secret, but I felt like he really fit what we wanted to be offensively. Through a lot of work on him, we ended up getting him, and he's more than panned out for sure."
Robinson added: "I thought if the injuries checked out and our medical staff was able to manage him and keep him healthy, he could be a really special player. It's a testament to Rob, too, he really earned everything he's got there."
Schrager's interview with Robinson is a good listen for those interested on how someone can rise from being a linebackers coach at Nicholls State to the GM of a playoff team. Relationships helped (former Patriots front-office man Jason Licht opened the door for Robinson to get his start in New England), as did impressive work on the road (his report on South Carolina defensive end Kalimba Edwards before the 2002 draft wowed then-Patriots personnel chief Scott Pioli).
Though there are many examples of the ways in which the Patriots benefitted from Robinson's 12 years with the team - they drafted Gronkowski, Chung, Ryan, Sebastian Vollmer, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, Marcus Cannon, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Nate Ebner, Jamie Collins, and Duron Harmon with Robinson's as director of college scouting - they're hoping he hasn't constructed a Titans roster capable of beating them at Gillette Stadium this weekend.