How does an incoming college freshman transition to playing the safety position?
It’s a question New England Patriots captain Devin McCourty covered Sunday night on the Double Coverage Podcast.
“I think one of the biggest things you have to understand when you first go to college is to not erase everything you knew, but have a very open mindset to understand,” McCourty said alongside his twin brother and co-host, Jason. “What are the new things you’re going to learn? What are your coaches now going to have as their top three-to-five keys to playing the position?”
The No. 27 overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft moved from cornerback to safety midway through his third season with the Patriots. What once appeared to be a de-facto switch soon became a full-time one.
McCourty’s résumé has gone on to include Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections at both spots, as well as a place within the franchise’s All-Decade secondary.
“I know for me in New England when we got there, it was tackling, communication and defending the deep part of the field,” McCourty added. “So, when you come in as a safety, I can’t come in here and say, ‘Man, I don’t care about none of that. I just want to play man-to-man.’ You have to first understand what your coaches expect of you, and then I would say to go out there and just keep going.”
McCourty checked into 52 games while at Rutgers. He finished with 238 tackles and one sack. There would be 27 passes deflected and six intercepted in his Scarlet Knights career. Also along the way were seven blocks, five fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and three touchdowns.
But as a rising freshman in head coach Greg Schiano’s media guide, the lightly recruited defensive back out of St. Joseph’s Regional High School redshirted.
“When I went, I had no shot to play in the beginning. It was just learning,” McCourty said. “I had a guy in front of me, Ron Girault, who went to the same high school as me and played as a freshman at Rutgers. He just did everything right, always knew his assignments – line people up, make plays. For me, it was, ‘I need to watch him as much as possible. I need to learn from him.’ And I would tell that to any young player.
“When you get to a team, don’t go in there thinking you’re the best thing to ever walk on a football field, but go learn from guys who are in front of you, guys who are seniors, guys who have been All-Conference or guys who have just been walk-ons and worked their way up to being on scholarship. Those are guys you can learn work ethic from, study habits, how to play the position.”
The eventual first-team All-Big East selection would be the third corner prospect off the board in his draft class after Florida’s Joe Haden and Alabama’s Kareem Jackson.
As for the position McCourty now plays in New England, the 32-year-old emphasized his last piece of advice.
“Stay as deep as the deepest,” he said.