FOXBORO - It’s not easy to play defensive back in a league that not only wants their quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns every week, but has tilted the rules to favor this previously unseen offensive explosion league-wide.
How many times have you watched a game and wondered if a cornerback can even lay a hand on a wide receiver and escape without a penalty? It’s getting rarer than a great steak from Davio’s, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t players in the NFL who aren’t throwbacks to another place and time where physicality was not only encouraged but allowed.
Take Malcolm Butler for instance. The Pats’ third-year corner is not the biggest player, but he takes pride in getting his hands on opposing wideouts and control them on their release. The Saints’ Willie Snead got a hard lesson today in joint practices.
In 11-on-11 red area work, Butler got in Snead’s face when he lined up in the slot, had his hands into Snead’s chest within the first full step of his release and immediately knocked Snead off balance. The talented receiver tried to get back into his route but Butler stayed on him, again assaulting Snead with his hands to prevent the 69-catch and near 1,000-yard receiver from a season ago to get to his proper depth on a crossing route.
Butler punctuated the play by once again jabbing Snead while he was still within that 5-yard halo of the initial line of scrimmage.
The result was an incomplete pass and Butler preening in an agitated Snead’s face. Saints coach Sean Payton took notice, not just of that play, but the aggressive nature of the Pats in pass coverage all morning.
“I thought by and large we struggled at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “New England does a real good job with their press technique and their disrupting of the passing game, so whether it was the tight ends or receivers, we’ve got to be better separating and handling some of the man to man coverage looks we get.”
That kind of chatter is music to safety Devin McCourty’s ears.
“It’s a big part of what we do,” the Pats safety noted. “I think if you watch us, you know that’s something we coach a lot here and every guy that comes in, whether it’s the starters or a guy that comes off the bench, everybody is playing the same way, same mentality.”
That’s why these joint practices are a much welcome break from the monotony of training camp sessions against teammates.
“Our offense is a different offense, this week [it’s] New Orleans,” said McCourty. “We gotta kinda get that going. We did a good job of coming out and being aggressive - obviously it wasn’t perfect - but I think we came out with the right mentality that will get us better as a group and we can work on.”
I’m not sure that’s what Willie Snead wants to hear.