Devin McCourty: Sack time = success

Rutgers fifth-year senior Devin McCourty is a multi-facted player, logging time as a cornerback, kick returner, on punt coverage and on the punt block team. So, what was a vital piece of his offseason training program? You won't believe it, but it is also something nearly everyone can excel at.

Running, weight training, seven-on-seven drills and film study. Each was an integral part of Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty's offseason preparation.

But there was one other thing he did, which many folks across the country could also excel at, to prepare for his busiest season.

"I really focused on taking naps,'' McCourty said. "I would take an hour nap every day.'' Certainly, McCourty could use some sack time after games this season.

The fifth-year senior is the top cornerback in the Big East, but his job description goes way beyond defense.

He is Rutgers' top kickoff performer, as the 98-yard return for a touchdown at Connecticut attests.

He is the best at blocking punts. His one in the second quarter Thursday against South Florida was the sixth of his career.

And when he is not taking aim at the punter, he is covering punts better than anyone in the Big East, and all the rest must be good for smarts because he is proven to be a heady player.

Against South Florida he got down the field so quickly he beat Teddy Dellaganna's punt. He simply waited for the ball to arrive to returner Faron Hornes, but instead of just making a tackle, he stripped the ball away and forced a turnover.

"When you have a guy that has the physical talent and skills that Devin does, you are going to use him as a coach as many places as you can without wearing him out,'' Schiano said. "I don't know if there is a defense or special teams player playing better than him in the entire country."

Earlier this season McCourty shut down Pittsburgh receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who has 40 receptions this season but managed only one against the Scarlet Knights.

Another marquee matchup was shaping up for this weekend when No. 25 Rutgers travels to Syracuse, until leading receiver Mike Williams quit the team, although the outcome of the matchup would have been easy to predict.

McCourty, who has a team-leading 56 tackles, may have played himself into the first day of April's NFL draft with his performance this season (that is what scouts are whispering), and his statistics this season suggest college offensive coordinators want nothing to do with him.

The 5-foot-11,190-pound McCourty has one interception, but that is attributed to teams not throwing in his direction. Instead, teams are willing to test sophomore cornerback David Rowe.

"I think he prepares incredible hard, and I am talking one of the top five I have been around, either college or pro,'' Schiano said. "He works very hard at it and practices very hard. Every day he goes out there he is playing a football game in practice.

"So, then it is no mystery that when he gets in the games he makes plays.''

The biggest issue concern McCourty is overuse.

He was involved in 111 plays against Connecticut, which is extreme, but he is heavily involved in every game.

In addition to his cornerback duties, McCourty returns kickoffs and covers punts. On occasion, like he did against South Florida, he will creep closer to the ball and charge at the punter.

"The way we did it worked out,'' McCourty said. "I don't think they saw me at first.'' With McCourty's value so high at multiple positions, Schiano is mindful of keeping him rested during practice.

"I try to pull him aside and take him out,'' Schiano said. "Do one rep that's it. Don't do five reps in drill work. I try to personally keep my eye on that because everybody else is running around coaching. I want to make sure that this last part of the season he is still feeling good."

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