Devin McCourty explains why he feels so comfortable at safety
|01.10.13 at 7:11 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s arguably the most important move of the season for the Patriots.
Since that deal at the trade deadline in early November, the Patriots defense – particularly the secondary – has looked like a new group, a group playing with a great deal of confidence.
On Thursday, McCourty shed some light on what the transition from corner to safety was like for him and whether the move came naturally.
“Not at first,” McCourty said. “Like any time you change positions, you have to get reps and get used to it. But last year, moving a little bit of safety on pass downs, I think the biggest thing was just adjusting to playing it every down of the game. Once I got more and more reps in practice and then actually being out there in the game, I felt like I started to get a good feel for it. I was able to make a couple plays. Now I feel that I’ve gained a good amount of confidence in playing either position. Now it’s just going out there and playing.”
Starting with the Jets game at home on Oct. 21, McCourty was the starting safety out of necessity when Steve Gregory was out with a hip injury and Patrick Chung was sidelined with a shoulder injury. But then Talib was acquired, allowing McCourty to stay at safety. McCourty played eight straight games at safety before moving back to cornerback for the final two games of the season with the knee injury to Alfonzo Dennard.
Against Houston, he had a key first-quarter interception that changed the tone of the game early on. He read Matt Schaub’s eyes over the middle and picked him off at the goal line as the Texans were threatening to tie the game, 7-7.
“Just catching the ball,” McCourty recalled. “The biggest thing is just trying to read the quarterback and go from there. It sounds simple, but at different times against quarterbacks in this league, sometimes they do a good job of looking you off and doing different things like that. Just trying to read the quarterback. Bill [Belichick] is big on telling on us, ‘Just do your job’. I felt like that was a play where they threw the ball down the middle, I’m supposed to be in the middle of the field and just made a field.”
He had another interception the next week against the 49ers as the Patriots wiped out a 28-point second-half deficit. McCourty finished 2012 with a team-leading five picks.
What’s been the key? McCourty says understanding the mentality of a safety and quarterbacking the secondary.
Adding to that confidence were
“I mean that’s one thing,” he said. “But I think you also put the communication level and the importance is way greater at safety. At corner where you’re only one side of the field, you’re not asked to communicate as much to the rest of the defense as you are at safety.
“With [Jerod] Mayo making so many calls, he has to really worry about handling the linebackers and the front four. I think once you talk about the secondary, the safeties have to worry about handling everything with the coverage aspect. When you’re at safety, you have to really make sure everyone gets the calls and everyone is listening. Whenever I’m back at that position, I put a lot of that on myself. Along with Steve [Gregory] and Pat [Chung] being back there, just making sure everyone gets what we’re doing.
Here is the remainder of Thursday’s presser with Devin McCourty:
Q: Do you know what you are going to play on Sunday?
DM: Somewhat. You always know somewhat what you are going to do.
Q: Do you want to share?
DM: No, I think I’ll keep the game plan to myself.
Q: What kind of changes are you expecting from the Texan offense?
DM: It’s hard to say exactly what they’ll do. I’m sure they’ll watch the game that we had before and they’ll feel differently about some things they did. The biggest thing when you watch film, no matter whether you won or lost, you realize there were opportunities probably in that game that they came in thinking and they’ll probably still think that way. I think the biggest thing we have to think as a defense is they’ll play better. They’re going to be ready to go. It’s the playoffs. We know they’re preparing for us right now. They’ll be ready to go and they’ll be better than the last game.
Q: Do you put any numbers on it and say, ‘If we hold Andre Johnson to this, we’ll be fine’?
DM: No, I wouldn’t say numbers-wise because you could hold him to what you can see as good numbers but he could have two catches over the top and they’d be big touchdowns. I don’t think it really matters that you only held him to 70 yards if it’s a 30- and 40-yard touchdown. I think we’ll just have to do a good job of staying deep when they try to throw the shots down the field. We’ll just try to compete with him. He’s one of the best receivers in the game and it’s going to be tough. I think Alfonzo [Dennard] and myself and Aqib [Talib] and Kyle [Arrington] and the guys that are going to be on him just have to do a good job of going out there and trying to make it tough for him.
Q: How much of a concern is play-action for you guys, especially in the back end?
DM: It’s huge. If you watch them throughout the year, they’ve made big plays against almost every team they’ve played. We have to always realize when we’re needed in the run game, we have to show up and be there but as players in the secondary, the pass is important to us. We have to be able to play the pass and those guys up front have to rely on us to do our jobs when they’re up there handling the run.
Q: How tough is it to take down Arian Foster?
DM: That’s why he has the numbers he has this season because he’s able to break tackles, he’s able to make guys miss. That’s when we’ll be needed, when a run breaks out or something like that and we have to show up as safeties, as corners. We have to do a good job of just trying to get him on the ground. I think we always talk a lot about, as secondary members we all help each other out a lot if we just get to the ball. If we can get to the ball and gang-tackle running backs when they break out and they get in the open field, it makes it a lot easier to get those guys on the ground.
Q: What do you like most about the secondary group?
DM: I think the biggest thing is we just go out there and play. Throughout the year, people criticize us, people say different things. I think the biggest thing is we all play for each other. When we go out there we have confidence in everyone that steps on that field that we’re going to go out there and make plays. I think this latter half of the season, we made a lot of plays and I think we have to continue to do that throughout the playoffs. The first thing I realized, when I’m only in third year, everything you did in the regular season doesn’t matter once you get into the playoffs. The key for us is to go out there and just try to make plays when they come to us. if we can do that, we’ll help our defense out a lot.
Q: How much different of a secondary are you with Aqib Talib on the roster?
DM: He’s been a big part just because he’s a good player. When you add a guy at that position, at the corner position, that’s a very good player, it helps your defense a lot. He’s been able to pick things up. We’ve inserted him into the lineup and he hasn’t missed a step. I think with him playing well and also Alfonzo [Dennard] playing well as a rookie, I think that’s helped us out a lot.
Q: This is the Patriots 10th postseason appearance under Bill Belichick. What is it about Coach Belichick and the way he conducts business that allows you guys to be in this position year in and year out?
DM: I think it’s what he expects and what he demands from the team. There’s no year since I’ve been here that expectations have dropped or he’s changed his standards. We have to meet his standards each year. Every year I’ve been here, he’s told us from the start of the season, wherever we got last year is going to be harder to get there and if we want to improve that, it’s going to be even harder, we have to work even harder. I think it’s an understanding of his coaching and his teaching and you put that together with some great leaders ‘ when I got here, guys like Tom [Brady] and Vince [Wilfork] were here and Jerod [Mayo] and Logan [Mankins]. When you have guys like that that have been here for awhile and the young guys come in and those are the guys you look up to. Those are the best players on the team and when they follow in those footsteps and they’re preaching the same thing, I think guys just follow along and listen.
Q: Does being in this position feel normal for you?
DM: You understand, you don’t take it for granted how hard it is to work to get here. I think we also realize as a team we put a lot of work into this. I think we’d be disappointed if we didn’t get to this spot. All the work you put in and extra days of watching film together an workouts and things like that, I think it would be a little disappointing if you didn’t get here.
Q: As a young man who plays football, do you worry much about what life might be like after football when you hear the studies and findings about Junior Seau? Does that resonate with you?
DM: I think hearing that is definitely sad but right now, you don’t really think about that. We’re going into a playoff game. For me, that’s where my focus is. It’s definitely sad to hear that but just all the focus right now is just playing this game against Houston.
Q: Would you have specific advice for a younger player or younger cousin about playing contact sports?
DM: I don’t know. I don’t think I got much advice about that so I wouldn’t even know what to do or what to say really.
Q: How much different is the energy level on the field in a playoff game?
DM: It’s definitely heightened. When you talk about, win or go home, that’s it. Guys have more energy. I think the sense of urgency is there. Guys are hyped, guys are ready to go. There really won’t be any quarters or plays guys take off because you just understand, it’s now or never. On our team the veterans do a good job of doing that because when you’re young, I remember my first year we made it to the playoffs, you kind of think this will happen every year, it will be automatic. But when you hear older guys talk about how hard it is to get there and now understand that, I’m one of those guys preaching that. you put that together with guys who have been playing in this league so many years, guys are amped up and ready to go when they get on that field for game time.
Q: Is it weird that you have been in the league for three years and been to the postseason all three years and a guy like Brandon Lloyd, this is his first? You’re kind of a veteran to talk about the postseason to guys who have been in the league for a number of years but never been in the playoffs.
DM: I think for them, their sense of urgency is there. They understand that they’ve played ‘X’ amount of years in this league. I know a guy like B-Lloyd can’t wait to step on that field and play in the postseason. Usually there isn’t much you have to say to those guys. They’re gamers and they’ll be ready to go.
Q: What has pleased you the most about the journey that the defense has made from the beginning of the year, going from the perception people had about the defense at the beginning of the year and ending with a shutout?
DM: Just improvement week in and week out. I think everyone on this defense, on this team, has done a good job of taking all the coaching that we get each week ‘ after wins, after losses ‘ and putting it to use and going out there every day at practice and improving and do things better. I think it speaks to the character of this team that guys don’t just think that we’ve got it or just think that things are going to be easy. We go out there each day and work and practice and try to improve. It feels good when it shows.
Q: How has Aqib Talib been able to step in? You guys have embraced him quickly.
DM: As soon as he got here, he was kind of just like one of the guys. I don’t know if it’s just with athletes in general but it seems like any time we get a new guy on this team, even a guy like Marquice Cole that came in the offseason, it seems like he’s been here for years. It’s always a lot of transition in the NFL. I think guys know each other from playing against each other, some guys played together in college, guys come in and it seems like they just fall right into the group. I don’t think there’s a group that has more fun than us in the secondary, just being in the locker room around each other, cracking jokes and doing things like that. He’s fit in well.
Q: What is the hardest thing about fitting into the Patriot Way?
DM: I don’t know how hard it is. I think it’s kind of simple: just do your job, follow what the other guys are doing. Just look at it in the simple aspect of, if I do my job, everything will work out pretty well.