The New England Patriots contend for the AFC East title every single year, having either won the division or lost on tiebreakers in every season dating back in 2001. It would be easy for the team to take their place atop the division for granted, but head coach Bill Belichick relies on his veterans to keep the players focused on the prize- and he trusts no one more than free safety Devin McCourty.
When asked about the players that keep the team focused on winning every week, Belichick said that McCourty “would be absolutely at the top of that list, 100 percent.”
“He does it every day,” Belichick said about McCourty keeping the team on track. “Devin just does a tremendous job – the leadership that he’s given us, the professionalism, the embodiment of the team and putting the team first, I mean, on every level. I don’t know how it could be really much better or any better than what it is.
“He does a tremendous job every day from 7 in the morning when things start going here, to our meetings, to our walkthroughs, to the practice field, to the film sessions, to game days, to after the game – the way he handles every situation, he does a great job for us. The leadership he gives us is tremendous.”
McCourty has been a team captain since his second season in the NFL because his teammates trust him and look to him for guidance. There’s a reason why Belichick himself called McCourty in the 11th hour of free agency to up the Patriots contract offer and retain the free safety.
Belichick’s known that McCourty’s had this leadership quality since the day he started scouting him.
“You could identify it at Rutgers, absolutely,” Belichick said about McCourty’s leadership in college. “I think you could identify it there without question. Now, there and here is two different things, but in that setting, on that team, in that environment, I think he had great leadership. [...]
“I think that’s one of the things that you see from a player, whether it be Devin McCourty or Jerod Mayo or Logan Mankins or guys like that that as rookies, they might not be ‘the team leader,’ but within that group, within that rookie group, they show great leadership.
“And then a lot of times that second year, as it did with Mayo, as it did with McCourty, the third year with David Andrews, you sometimes see that accelerated jump in leadership and those guys being selected as captains by their teammates, things like that.”
Belichick also mentioned that McCourty’s leadership was impressive because he played cornerback and was not in the heart of the defense, which meant he had to have great communication ability and hold a lot of respect from his teammates.
McCourty is the heart and soul of the Patriots defense and there’s a great chance that he’ll be with the team for his entire career. He’s the heir to Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison at safety and he’s assumed a similar leadership role, and whenever he retires he’ll ascend to the same pantheon in the Patriots Hall of Fame.