Devin McCourty speaks Thursday after mini-camp practice at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
FOXBORO — For Devin McCourty, this is a great time to be a leader in the Patriots’ secondary.
After spending the last several weeks and mini-camp this week with first and second-year members of the defensive backfield, the newlywed veteran safety is pumped up about what he’s seeing.
In addition to working with second-round pick Cyrus Jones, the eight-year pro McCourty has been playing alongside the likes of Darryl Roberts (2015 pick from Marshall), Jordan Richards (2015 pick from Stanford) and Brock Vereen (third year pro from Minnesota). Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman are also entering just their third NFL season.
The natural question after Thursday’s final day of mini-camp was to get a feel for how Jones, a projected slot corner, has adapted from Alabama to the Patriots secondary.
“He’s another one of the smart guys from Alabama,” McCourty said with his trademark smile. “Between him and [Dont’a] Hightower, he knows his stuff. It’s been good. He’s been out there. He’s been trying to learn. [He’s] a younger guy so things happen fast but I think he’s been able to adjust and adapt. When he makes mistakes, he’s still out there playing hard. He’s correcting them. He’s a young guy that’s really working hard.”
But then unsolicited, McCourty raved about what it’s been like for veterans like Chung and him to work with a new generation of defensive backs, which now includes Butler, Jones, Richards and Roberts.
“The exciting thing is that we have a ton of rookies in that corner group that have been out here making plays, mini-camp, OTAs, those guys are really learning and they’re not making a ton of mistakes,” McCourty added. “I think it’s really exciting to see them as a group, DBs, safeties and corners.”
While Richards garnered a lot of attention last year and Butler stole the show in Super Bowl XLIX, Roberts was someone who caught the eye of McCourty in mini-camp and OTAs last summer before a wrist injury ended his season in training camp.
“He was a guy last year the same way. He got out there,” McCourty said of the second-year player from Marshall. “He knew his stuff. He worked hard. As a rookie, obviously you’re not going to know everything. You’re going to need veterans get out there to help you and give you little hints. He’s another guy that was on top of it. I think as a veteran, it’s always exciting to see rookies that, if you say one word to them, it correlates and they understand it.
“It means they’re going home, they’re studying. I remember those days, going home, staying up for two, three hours, trying to understand just so when you get out there with the older guys, you know. You might not see it right away and someone might have to yell something to you but you want to know what they yelled to you and all those guys, these young guys, have really worked hard and I think are putting in a ton of work to get to that level because it’s not easy.”
The rookies and second-year players know the standard for intelligence in the secondary has been set very high by the likes of McCourty, Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner and Logan Ryan.
“I think all those rookies have come in, whether we’re giving them a one [word]-code and they know what we’re talking about,” McCourty said. “It’s not always like that. You come in and they throw a lot of stuff at you, and to handle it and to go home and study, I think shows maturity and that these guys want to be here.
“I’ve had a ton of guys come up to me, watching film, ask me to watch them. They understand. I think the good thing is we have a good group on this team of older guys that have come in and gone through a lot in this league, some undrafted, some late rounds. We have a mix of everybody that can help out and pitch in and their words of advice and be someone the rookies can follow.”
Mixing those guys together has been the job of Steve Belichick (who earlier this spring said he’s looking forward to the challenge). McCourty has been impressed with the defensive assistant-turned-safeties coach, repeating a message he delivered at the start of OTAs.
“He’s been good,” McCourty said Thursday. “I think we have a good group, especially once Nate gets back [from U.S. Rugby], a group that we have some we have some experienced players, some young players and I think Steve’s been able to kind of mesh it together. I think with him being in his first year, he’s a younger guy that can really relate to all of us. So, it’s been fun. On the field, he’s been out here on the field for a couple of years now, so I don’t feel like it’s anything new to him or new for him. We have a good relationship so always just talking and trying to keep a good handle on the group. So far, I think we all love Steve.”
McCourty was also asked about another Nate, who is with the team right now. Nate Washington is entering his 13th NFL season and his first in New England. McCourty has liked what he’s seen from the veteran receiver, whom he’s known from his days in Tennessee, when he played with Devin’s twin Jason McCourty.
“I’ve gone against Nate a couple of times. I’m talked to him a bunch of times just from being with my brother down in Tennessee,” McCourty said. “He was kind of friend. I talked to him even before he came here. I always do what I can.”
Did Devin recruit Washington?
“I always do what I can,” McCourty said. “I always do what I can.”
Does he think Washington will make the team?
“I don’t know. That’s above my pay grade,” McCourty said. “He’s done well. He’s a veteran guy so it looks like it wasn’t hard for him to kind of understand and catch on to what they were talking about on offense because he’s been out there a ton. He’s been able to make plays. He’s an older guy but he looks young out here.”