New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is known for heaping praise on his opponents, but is usually conservative when discussing his own players. He’s say that “nobody works harder than” whichever player is being discussed, but then he usually shifts the conversation to the entire position group or team.
There are very few Patriots of whom Belichick will sing praises from the mountaintops. Tedy Bruschi is the perfect player. Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown are “the gold standard in terms of teamwork, commitment, performance, and winning.” Vince Wilfork was the captain of the captains. Rodney Harrison embodies everything that Belichick ever wanted in a player. Few players ever had as big of an impact as Jerod Mayo.
But all of these descriptions from Belichick came at their respective retirement ceremonies, so it’s worth noting when Belichick took to the podium to rave about his appreciation for defensive back Devin McCourty.
“Well, there’s not many that do more behind the scenes than Devin does,” Belichick said on Wednesday. “He just does a tremendous job in every area. He’s been a team captain for multiple years, team captain his second year, which speaks a lot for his leadership and the respect that he has from his teammates. [Jerod] Mayo is in that category, but it’s a short list.
“Devin’s a great teammate that works extremely hard, does his job well, very supportive of all his teammates, good communicator, hard worker on and off the field, works great in the weight room, film room, practice field, tough mental player on the football field. He’s played corner, he’s played strong safety, free safety, been involved in pretty much everything in the kicking game: kickoff, kickoff return, punt returns, field goal rush, he plays a lot of snaps over the course of the season, a lot of different responsibilities, working with linebackers and corners and the safeties.
“I can’t say enough about the job that he’s done this year, and every year really. He’s an outstanding player and an even better person and better teammate. I couldn’t be prouder to coach a player than Devin McCourty.”
McCourty is getting ready to finish out his eighth season in the league and he’s excelled in so many situations. In his first two-and-a-half seasons, he was a cornerback and earned All Pro distinction. He then played free safety and also earned All Pro distinction. And over the past two seasons, he’s played a fair amount of strong safety with Patrick Chung as a linebacker/nickelback and Duron Harmon as the free safety and managed to earn another All Pro distinction.
All the defenders look up to McCourty for leadership during difficult times and he’s always been a vocal presence with the team. This comes easy to McCourty, who has been a team captain since his second season, who believes he’s just being himself.
“It’s great,” McCourty said when told about Belichick’s praise. “That’s something my mom’s always told me. Make sure you be yourself and people value who you are as a person more than anything. It’s been awesome for me to learn from [Belichick] and since my second year been able to sit in captains meetings to me was the biggest part in getting to know him and how he thinks about the game and different things and events.”
But does Belichick tell McCourty the praise directly?
“No,” McCourty said with a laugh. “You guys usually tell me. Tom Curran told me first. Whoever usually gets me and tells me first that Bill says something good about me, I always just think it’s better than him saying something bad.”
“I got to make sure to find him to tell him thank you and pay him the amount of money I told him I’d pay him for saying those things.”
The 30-year-old defensive back is under contract for two more seasons and is still playing at an extremely high level. It would not be a surprise if he received a contract extension to smooth out his cap hit in 2018 and 2019.
While McCourty is just starting the back-end of his career (which is weird to say, but he’s started 141 games and Darrell Green and Charles Woodson are the only defensive backs in NFL history to double that total), he’s not showing any signs of slowing down and should be able to build upon his already impressive legacy.
And I don’t want to rush McCourty’s career at all, but if Belichick is willing to say such great things about him while he’s still active, I’m interested to see how the head coach opens up once the defensive back retires- hopefully after a decade with a few more Super Bowl victories in hand.