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Devin McCourty ready for the challenges that await

08.22.11 at 1:36 pm ET
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Devin McCourty turned in an elite performance as a Patriots rookie in 2010. (AP)

FOXBORO — After one of the finest rookie seasons in Patriots’ history, cornerback Devin McCourty knows that the challenges will be even greater entering his second season.

Many believe that the biggest adjustment for an NFL player is not the move from college to the pros, but going from his first season in the league to his second. With the arrival of a sophomore season, teams have a book on each and every player — status as an unknown commodity is a thing of the past. There’s no sneaking up on anyone, especially for someone like McCourty who, as a rookie, started every game, made 82 tackles and ended the season with seven interceptions. (His seven interceptions in 2010 are the second-most by a Patriots rookie and were tied for second in the NFL in 2010.)

“There’ll be more challenges [this year],” McCourty acknowledged before practice on Monday afternoon. “I think the biggest thing [coach Bill Belichick] tries to remind you is to be focused and not really think as a second-year player or a veteran. Kind of lean more toward thinking you’re a rookie. You still have a lot to learn. I think that’s the biggest message he gives you — just continue to try and learn and do the things you did well last year and kind of fix the things you didn’t do well last year.

“I don’t think you can come back and be the same player, I think you can either get better or get worse, so my focus is just trying to get better as a player.”

This coming from a player who was selected to his first Pro Bowl, becoming the fourth Patriots player to be selected as a rookie. In addition, he was named to the Associated Press All-Pro Second Team. Where can the improvements come from?

“Really, everything,” he said. “Coming in, not having that offseason evaluation with the coaches, but just coming in now from working throughout camp and going into the season as a corner coming in and covering, you always want to be tight in coverage, so all those different things while playing the cornerback position.

“I’m not a rookie anymore. Just having a little better understanding of the defense, what’s going on around me, the offense, and just being a little better prepared player has helped me kind of understand the game of football more. I feel like this year I can do more things as a player — not just as a corner, but to help the defense as a whole.”

Even though he’s only played a year in the league, McCourty has already emerged as a leader in a relatively young secondary (all of New England’s defensive backs are under 30). McCourty said it’s more of a collaborative effort when it comes to making sure everyone is “on the same page.”

“I think we all kind of feed off each other — especially last year at the cornerback position, [where] we didn’t have any true veteran, so I think we all kind of leaned on each other at different times, helping each other out with our knowledge and the biggest thing is that we rely on each other,” McCourty said. “Our coaches help us, but whether it’s me asking [Pat] Chung something or Chung asking me something or what I might do on a play or how I view something, it might be different from him. I think it all comes back to trying to be on the same page, so we have to kind of lean on each other.”

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