The New England Patriots’ defensive backfield is not just the deepest and most talented position group on the team’s roster, and arguably in the entire league, but also one of the most experienced. Among its veteran members is cornerback Jason McCourty, who is entering his third season in the Patriots’ system and 12th overall since arriving in the NFL as a sixth-round selection by the Tennessee Titans during the 2009 draft.
McCourty has seen it all since then, from the ultimate lows to the ultimate highs.
Heading into 2020 as part of a team that lost considerable experience and veteran leadership during the offseason, McCourty is therefore embracing his role as one of New England’s elder statesmen both within the defense as a whole and the cornerback room in particular. After all, he has appeared in more combined regular season and playoff games than all but three other players on the Patriots’ current roster (special teamer Matthew Slater, and fellow defensive backs Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung).
“I love that part of it,” McCourty said during a recent media availability session. “I’m always talking to — I call him ‘Gerbil’ — but J.C. [Jackson], I’m always giving him a hard time. I’m always on him. I feel like that’s just a part of the game. When I first came into the league, I was in Tennessee and I had guys like Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope, Michael Griffin; a ton of guys that were willing to pour into me and help me figure out how to be a pro, whether it was the defense, whether it was life off the field.
“So, for me, getting a chance to be around J.C. — [Jonathan] Jones is a young veteran himself — but Joejuan [Williams], all of those guys, being able to help them, whether it’s questions about finance, questions about agents, or any of those different things, to be able to be just a sounding board,” continued the 32-year-old when speaking about actively providing leadership as part of a cornerback group that features a healthy mix of veterans and youngsters.
On the one hand, you have McCourty, Jones and the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Stephon Gilmore. On the other end of the experience spectrum, meanwhile, are the players mentioned above — Joejuan Williams and J.C. Jackson — as well as second-year man D’Angelo Ross. The safety group is constructed in a similar fashion, with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung as the veterans leading a group that also includes young talent like second-round rookie Kyle Dugger.
“I think whether it’s Joejuan, whether it was D’Angelo [Ross] before he got hurt, Malik [Gant], all of those young guys came in and they were willing to listen to the older guys, listen to the coaches and really do everything that was asked of them on a daily basis to make sure they were making the necessary movements forward to get better as a football player,” said McCourty about the players that just recently joined New England’s deep secondary either during or after the 2019 draft.
McCourty also spoke about the dynamics at play during practice, and how his experience of having played for multiple organizations and coaches — he also spent one year with the Cleveland Browns between his stints in Tennessee and New England — help him adjust to different situations and provide guidance. That said, he noted that this is currently missing from the operation due to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and the impact it is having on the Patriots’ offseason work.
“Whatever the question or anything that I have to share, I’m going to do so,” McCourty said. “I love that that aspect, and I think that’s the part that sucks right now: We don’t get a chance to — obviously, we have our virtual meetings — but you don’t get a chance to be in the building, really get to know the new guys and catch up on what’s gone on in the offseason and really kind of build that chemistry right now.”