FOXBORO — It’s been a transitional year for Devin McCourty .
He played some safety in college, as well as last season, but with the midseason addition of cornerback Aqib Talib , the Rutgers product is now putting ‘safety’ on his W-2 instead of just ‘cornerback,’ as it appears he’s made the full-time switch — for now — to the back end of the defense. He said Thursday morning it’s meant an occasional change to his preparation.
‘I’ll always watch film and prepare,’ he said. ‘I think my mentality has changed a little bit as far as trying to be the head communication guy back there with [fellow safety] Steve [Gregory]. So not just being able to watch and see how the play affects me or how I’m going to play something, but just to be able to watch things and see if I can get any type of keys or pre-snap reads that I can let everybody else on the defense know.’
McCourty has learned about the need to be more vocal in his approach.
‘Vocally, I’ve really thought about speaking more; as soon as I see something, trying to yell it out to the defense. So I think the biggest thing I’ve changed is my mentality and how I approach it,’ he said.
‘Playing a little safety in college, you had to do it, but what I’ve got here is totally different, communicating in the NFL and letting guys know what’s around them. I’ve just kind of been learning on the job and each week has gotten better and I’ve gotten more conformable. So I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.’
As Talib said on Wednesday, the biggest thing for the Patriots defensive backs to keep in mind this week — particularly the safeties — is the arm strength of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco . Flacco, who has been one of the best in the league when it comes to completing passes of 20 yards or more, was able to connect on several deep throws last Sunday in a divisional playoff win over the Broncos .
‘I think you have to be aware of it,’ McCourty said of Flacco’s arm strength and big play ability. ‘You have to know, just like any other team we play, that week you scout them, you watch film and you understand what they do well and you have to know those things. You can’t just go out on the field and play everybody the same. I think it will be key just watching film and understanding what Flacco does really well.
‘I think he does a good job of handling their team and making the right decisions,’ McCourty added. ‘I think playing quarterback puts a lot on you. I think he does a good job of not turning the ball over. When you see a guy make the plays he made last week, with I think a little over a minute left it was 70, 80 yards — to make that play down the field is big. I think he’s clutch and he makes plays for them.’
‘[Smith is] a fast guy; he moves. That’s not to say he’s not physical at all, but I think one of his biggest strengths is his speed, and if you give him a step or two, it will turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is,’ McCourty said. ‘[Boldin is] a very physical guy. I mean, you can tell, I think, by his size and his strength. He really uses that to his advantage of how physical he can be out there in routes and in blocking.’