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Devin McCourty wants to get better, but how much better can he get?

08.03.11 at 10:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Coming off one of the best rookie seasons for a corner in recent memory, All-Pro Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty has lofty expectations to live up to — his own.

A season after he racked up seven interceptions (second only to Mike Haynes in 1976 for the most by a Patriots rookie) and showed in no time that despite being the third corner taken in the 2010 draft (Joe Haden went fifth overall to the Browns, while the Texans nabbed Kareem Jackson at No. 20) that he could be the best of the bunch, simply repeating his rookie performance would keep him in the conversation of being one of the better corners in the game.

Given that it didn’t take him long to establish himself as the Patriots’ top corner despite being just months removed from playing college ball at Rutgers, the second-year player hopes to keep the pedal to the metal. He had to Wednesday night, as the bright lights of Gillette Stadium shined on the team’s practice for stands occupied by screaming season-ticket holders.

“As a defensive back, every time someone got beat tonight, you heard a bunch of fans like it was a game,” McCourty said after the practice.

Luckily for McCourty, he wasn’t a victim of being on the wrong end of the cheers, and instead showed his craft at leaving both fans and receivers with nothing in drills. He got physical with second-year tight-end Aaron Hernandez in the end zone to break up a pass, and later disrupted Chad Ochocinco as the newcomer tried to reel in a ball.

Going against players such as Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Hernandez, and other players who have had success in this league certainly keep McCourty’s intensity high on the practice field as he looks to take the next step. He feels the coaches haven’t changed their way of bringing him along, so his development shouldn’t be any different.

“Kind of the same way they [worked with] me last year,” McCourty said of how he’s been treated since establishing himself as an elite corner. “Just trying to pick up things and try to work for perfection. As a DB, you’ll never get it, but when you’re going against Tom Brady every day in practice and Deion and Ochocinco, we’re just trying to get better. For me, just working against those guys and trying to make plays out here in practice.”

He is making the plays in practice, but on it’s his performance in games that made him a Pro Bowler first-team All-Pro. In addition to his seven picks, he had a sack and two forced fumbles as a rookie. Were it not for the unreal rookie performance of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in the draft, McCourty would have taken home defensive rookie of the year honors. In fact, McCourty was the only other player to receive votes (he got two of 50) for the award that was undoubtedly to be given to Suh for his 10-sack performance.

McCourty achieved much of his success last season starting with either Darius Butler or Kyle Arrington as the other corner. This year figures to be different, as Leigh Bodden has healed from the shoulder injury that cost him last season and should be good to return to his starting spot. Though he couldn’t be on the field with him during the season, McCourty points to Bodden as having a major role in his adjustment to the NFL.

“I remember last year, early in the season I could go up to him and ask him questions or just see how he thought about the game,” McCourty said. “That’s definitely the same guy we have in here now.”

If Bodden can be that same guy and play to his 2009 form, when he led the Pats with five picks and started 14 games, the Patriots will be in good shape. When it comes to McCourty, it isn’t about doing the same. Both he and the Patriots have to know that All-Pro rookie cornerbacks don’t grow on trees, and that whatever step forward he can take as a second-year pro is a scary one for receivers and quarterbacks. While it’s natural to wonder how an OTA-less offseason could impact young players as they try to progress, McCourty sees it is simply making the most of each day on the field from here on out.

“You either get better or you get worse,” McCourty said Wednesday. “Right now we’re trying to make sure each day we get better. Sometimes you can’t get as good as you want to get, but we have to always be moving forward.”

Read More: 2011 training camp, Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Devin McCourty
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