Devin McCourty has had a fair share of ups and downs in his first four NFL seasons with the New England Patriots. As he prepares for the upcoming 2014 season, his fifth year in the NFL, he knows expectations are raised even higher.
McCourty’s transition from cornerback to safety late during the 2011 season was not easy, but it was necessary for the Patriots secondary to improve. The Patriots have seen enough from McCourty over the past several seasons to fully understand what the pro-bowl safety is capable of. One former Patriots safety, seems to think the time is now for McCourty to step up.
Rodney Harrison visited Gillette Stadium as former Patriots teammate Ty Law was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame on Friday, August 1st. Harrison was joined by former Patriots greats Otis Smith, Lawyer Milloy, Troy Brown Bobby Hamilton and Teddy Bruschi as a part of the Patriots Championship teams of the past. When asked about the Patriots current defense, Harrison was quick to point out some things that McCourty has to do in 2014 in order to be successful.
“Devin McCourty has to step up and be that leader — I know it’s his contract year. Instead of just worrying about money, he has to take over that secondary as a safety,” Harrison said.
Of course, this reference is not to take subliminal jabs at McCourty or suggest anything negative about the former cornerback. It is Harrison’s passionate and emotional personality saying what he feels that made him regarded as one of the most respected NFL players during his career. McCourty is on the same page as Harrison and believes the same thing.
“I try to take the leadership role – with some new guys back there and some younger guys, I try to make sure my experience is felt throughout the secondary,” McCourty said following practice on Thursday. “From being here for so long now – myself and Kyle (Arrington), two guys that have been here for a good amount of time. We can step up and help guys out to get them in the right position. I think that is key to develop a good secondary, having guys that go out there and try to line everyone up to get them set. I think that is key to our success.”
McCourty is coming off his first full season as a free safety, but throughout his career, he lacks the hard-hitting physical play that most safeties like Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and even Harrison himself brought to the field. McCourty recorded just one interception during the 2013 season, and also had two fumbles, but he needs to stand up and take accountability. He allowed the lowest quarterback rating when targeted and did only allowed three passing touchdowns in the 2013 season.
“So, Devin McCourty, I expect him to come out and say ‘Hey, you guys are new. I know everyone’s excited about you,’ but have professional pride and say ‘This is my secondary. You guys come here, I’m gonna get everyone lined up and we’re gonna get it done.”
Devin McCourty’s football intelligence, passion and awareness are why he has thrived as a free safety in the NFL. His versatility and work ethic has made him stand out with some of the best safeties in the NFL for his entire Patriots career. During his rookie season in 2010, he had a solid year at cornerback, leading the NFL with seven interceptions, but his lack of physicality and experience led to him getting beat in coverage constantly. His inconsistency has held him back at several points during his career. McCourty was rated as ProFootballFocus “best safety” in the NFL. His football smarts, range, and experience make him an elite NFL safety. McCourty, a former Rutgers University product is joined by second year players and Rutgers alumni cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon.
“I just think he has to step outside his comfort zone,” Harrison said. “And sometimes that’s what it takes. Sometimes it takes to get in Darrelle Revis’ face, but I don’t think he has to do that. Because I think Darrelle is a natural leader, and he’s gonna show up and be a pro every day.”
He is the veteran in the secondary that everyone looks to and everyone should be held accountable by. He is a co-captain and he is the quarterback of the secondary who needs to step up. Harrison, arguably the best safety in Patriots franchise history, believes McCourty can step his game up and be the man in the secondary. He has the potential to be a vocal leader and a more physical player for the defense and believes McCourty needs to to play better.