FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Defensive players don't come near New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady when he's wearing a red jersey at training camp.
The same goes for backups Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow.
However, Devin McCourty is a different story.
The Patriots safety has been donning the protective jersey through the
first two weeks of camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
It didn't do him much good.
"I got tackled one time in a red jersey," he said. "So I don't know how
much of a difference it made."
He finally shed the red, instead sporting the traditional blue jersey
for the first time at practice on Saturday. Now McCourty is ready to
make an even bigger impact for a New England secondary that is looking
to distinguish itself this season.
"I think our goal every year is to come out and be the strength of the
defense," McCourty said. "No matter how well we play up front, they
can't stop it if a team comes out and decides to pass the ball every
time. We want to hold up our end and we know everyone else is going to
hold up theirs."
The 25-year-old McCourty has more than held up his end of the bargain
as the leader of the secondary.
He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie cornerback out of Rutgers in 2010 with
seven interceptions, but had a sophomore slump with just two
interceptions in 14 games.
By the end of that season, McCourty occasionally shifted to safety.
When New England acquired shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib from Tampa Bay
late last year, the move became permanent.
"It's always challenging. That's probably the reason why I'm playing
multiple positions, just to make sure I can keep playing both and keep
staying fresh on it," said McCourty, who had five interceptions last
season. "I wish I could say it's as easy as riding a bike, but it's
not. You've got to be out there and getting reps and experience certain
"As we get into the season, seeing different teams, seeing what they
do, and viewing it from a corner standpoint and a safety standpoint is
where the biggest difference is."
Despite playing mostly safety for seven of the first eight training
camp practices, McCourty isn't about to pick favorites.
"I like wherever they put me. It's a chance to help the team win," he
said. "To be able to practice a couple positions always helps you
throughout the season. Injuries happen, things happen, so you never
know. You can't take everyone you want into games, so you never know if
we've got to play musical chairs back there."
Too often that's been the case for New England in recent years.
The Patriots last season surrendered 277 passing yards per game,
fourth-worst in the NFL, and 27 touchdowns, which was the 12th highest
total in the league.
A year earlier, they allowed 294 passing yards a game, trailing only
Green Bay's 32nd-ranked passing defense.
The re-signing of Talib and the offseason acquisition of 12-year
veteran and five-time Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson bolsters a unit in
desperate need of an identity.
And they believe they've finally found it.
"I feel we have a great group of guys, just high-character guys," said
fifth-year cornerback Kyle Arrington. "The thing about it is we all
like each other, we hang out off the field, and I think that plays a
huge, important role into our comfortability with each other on the
Earlier in camp, Wilson downplayed his own leadership role, saying
instead he's just following McCourty's lead.
McCourty returned the compliment.
"I think him being in the league so long and the things he's
accomplished, leader comes with his name," he said. "He's definitely a
leader for us and I have a great deal of respect for him, he has a
great deal of respect for me."
To Arrington, there's no question about the stewardship of the
secondary — red jersey or not.
"That's a great combination — smart, fast, athletic back there at
safety for us," he said. "Devin, he's a great leader and we just try to
follow his lead, follow his example.
"He's smart, knows the playbook, puts people in the right positions, so
definitely glad to have a guy like that on our team."
McCourty Leading The Way
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