For the majority of his entire 13-year career, Devin McCourty was a staple in the back end of the New England Patriots’ defense. McCourty was a perfect fit for such role due to not only his fantastic athletic ability, but more importantly his football knowledge and IQ.
Speaking at McCourty’s retirement ceremony Tuesday at the Patriots Hall of Fame — where the three-time Super Bowl champion will be a surefire lock to be inducted in four years — Belichick shared a story of how McCourty’s on-field knowledge immediately stood out to him during the pre-draft process.
Traveling to Rutgers in 2010 to watch now linebackers coach Steve Belichick’s lacrosse game, Belichick decided to set up a meeting with the Scarlet Knight defensive back. There in a the Rutgers weight room, him and McCourty threw on the film and started talking about his career. The small-named recruit who wasn’t even a four-year collegiate starter made quite the first impression.
“When we got into the film, that’s where I kind of got blown away,” Belichick said. “Coach [Greg] Schiano told me that Devin was really smart, could run the defense, kind of knew what everybody was doing. I’ve heard that before, so I was like, ‘Yeah, alright, we’ll see.’
“I started asking him a few questions about the secondary. What’s this coverage, who does this, who does that? What if this guy goes in motion, what’s the call? Kind of went through all that pretty good. So I thought I’d ramp it up a little bit here and started asking him about the linebackers. What are they keying on this? What are they doing on that? He kind of knocks that out too.
“So, then I figured I’m just going to push it out and embarrass him a little bit here. So, let’s start talking about the defensive line. One of the classic things everyone calls is a stunt where the end and the tackle both go inside and the corner comes and that’s called a pirate stunt — it’s pretty universal. So I said, what’s this called here, Devin? Let me guess, you’re calling this a ‘pirate,’ and he goes, no, it’s actually ‘Buc’ because everybody knows what a pirate is, so kind of have a different call for that so we call it a ‘Buc’.
“He knocks out the whole defensive line, too,” Belichick continued. “I had never really had an interview like this. I was completely stunned that he would know as much as he did about the entire Rutgers defense.”
McCourty’s intelligence and awareness made him the perfect fit as New England’s field general — one of the most complex and important roles in Bill Belichick’s defense. Belichick shared several instances where McCourty’s football knowledge made a huge impact on games, such as the 2018 AFC Championship game.
“One of the real keys to that whole game was the way Tyreek Hill moved around and the way Devin was able to manipulate the defensive calls,” he said. “Our bracket calls, our top calls, and things like that that we used to try to double and cover Hill and how that changed through the course of the game as they moved him from different spots.
“It was really a tremendous job by Devin of organizing the secondary and making the proper calls and proper adjustments in obviously the biggest game of the year up to that point.”
With McCourty now off to retirement, New England will have the challenge of replacing one of the best and smartest football players the organization has ever seen, as well as a Hall of Fame person off the field.
“He could probably coordinate the defense and call the defense for that matter,” Belichick added. “He was just a guy who had such an exceptional mind and ability to transfer the knowledge in the classroom and take it to the field.”