By: Ian Logue
Looking back to that day back in April when his name was announced, I can still hear the collective groans like it was yesterday.
When the Patriots traded down twice and then finally selected cornerback Devin McCourty in the first round six months ago, there weren’t too many fans who were excited about his selection. Most were hoping for the Patriots to go after someone who could rush the passer and get to the quarterback, and instead were less than thrilled to see them grab a guy who most experts had rated as a terrific “special teams player”.
Well here we are four games later, and McCourty has emerged as a solid NFL cornerback.
Now granted not everything has been perfect. He’s been out of position at times, and he’s had guys get him twisted and turned around as they made a reception, and he’s also been beaten to the endzone. However, overall McCourty has won far more battles than he’s lost, and is slowly solidifying a position that really has been fairly uncertain in recent years.
Sometimes things happen for a reason, and losing Leigh Bodden to injured reserve has ended up being a great opportunity for the rookie. It’s given him a chance for plenty of “on the job training”, and clearly he’s making the most of it. He’s matched up against the likes of Terrell Owens, Jerricho Cotchery, Lee Evans, and Brandon Marshall – and he’s held his own against each of them. Through four games he’s made 19 tackles (1 assisted) and has two pass deflections, but the thing that’s been the most impressive about him is the fact that he’s a phenomenal open field tackler. I’ve Tweeted this on more than one occasion, but I honestly believe he may be one of the best open-field tacklers this team has had at that position in years. He’s not a guy who lets someone make a move after the catch and get by him, and he always wraps up and does a good job of preventing any yards after he makes the initial hit. It’s something you’re not used to seeing from a first year player, especially at cornerback.
It’s funny, there are still even plenty of guys who have been in the NFL for years that haven’t even got that part down, yet McCourty already seems to have a good handle on that aspect of his game. For a rookie to come in and play as well as he has, it really has been a pleasant surprise. More importantly it’s been a much needed one, and so far he’s proven that he’s on his way to being a solid starter at that position.
Needless to say it’s no surprise that Belichick had such high praise for him back in April when they selected him.
“Things came out about as well as we could have hoped for,” Belichick said after they selected him. “[McCourty] is fast. He’s very tough. He’s a good four-down football player — first, second, third and fourth down in the kicking game, certainly one of the top guys in the draft in that area.”
“There aren’t too many players that can really impact a player on first, second, third and fourth downs. That gives him a lot of versatility and a lot of value. You may disagree, but I don’t see it that way.”
There probably aren’t too many people who disagree at this point, because the rookie has certainly been one of the positives with this team at the early part of this season.
Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty has done everything he’s been asked to do so far in his first season in New England. (PHOTO:Icon/SMI)
After being thrust into a starting role after Bodden’s injury, the Patriots needed him to step up and play well. It’s a lot of pressure to put on any first year player, but he’s done exactly what has been asked of him. He’s even outplayed second year defensive back Darius Butler, who has struggled through his first four games. Butler lost his starting role after New England’s week two loss against the Jets, and has given way to third year defensive back Kyle Arrington. To this point Arrington seems to have edged him out of the line-up after starting the last two games, but since there’s still plenty of football left it’s a little premature to award the position to him just yet. Butler has had limited snaps since, and he’ll obviously need to make the most of any opportunity he has during the remaining games to prove he can handle the position.
But for now the other side of the field seems to be firmly in the hands of the rookie out of Rutgers. With 12 games remaining it’s obviously a little early to “put McCourty in Canton” just yet, but his play on the field at this point should still have most fans feeling pretty happy with what they’ve seen. Hopefully as the season progresses we’ll see him take the next step and force a turnover or an interception, and do something to convince fans even further that Belichick made the right selection. The potential appears to be there, and some experts even rated him as a potential shut down corner heading into the draft. While he may not be there quite yet, it looks like he’s only going to get better from here.
Back in April on the day he took him, Belichick said that McCourty understands defenses and said he’s a well prepared player. So far McCourty has been exactly how Belichick described him to be, and it should be interesting to see how he develops over the rest of the season.
“Devin is working hard. He’s a tough kid,” said Belichick recently. “He really studies the material and tries to play the technique, tries to play the defense just the way you want it played. There are still a lot of things that he or any rookie would need to learn or get experience on, but he’s a quick learner. He’s got good instincts. He tackles well. He’s tough and he runs well, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He’s doing a good job. There’s still a lot to learn and a long way to go.”
That may be, but he’s definitely off to a great start.