FOXBORO – The Patriots secondary has been under the microscope all offseason, into training camp and now you can include an actual game.
With a remade group at the back end of the defense, New England will need players to step to the fore, especially at cornerback. On Thursday night, two corners made a positive impression: Malcolm Butler and Robert McClain.
Butler, in limited time, had a nice pass breakup in the end zone against Davante Adams on a fade thrown by Aaron Rodgers.
McClain, a small but solid slot corner who came over from Atlanta, showed up with his coverage and tackling.
Every corner has to have a high level of self-belief. The occasional conspicuous failure is part of the job. Butler and McClain both seem to have that covered.
“You gotta have confidence to play as a defensive back,” said Butler. “You don’t have to be a butthole or anything like that but you gotta have confidence to play defensive back and that’s what it’s about, enjoying the game and having fun.”
The reaction to plays made by the Super Bowl hero – who’s been a standout in training camp practices – was noticeably loud. Asked about the ovation after his end zone breakup, Butler said, “It feels pretty good, but at the same time moving forward off of the Super Bowl. Trying to build off of it and establish whatever I got coming for me.”
McClain is trying to establish himself in New England. Replacing a very good slot corner in Kyle Arrington, McClain had a nice pass breakup on the Packers first offensive drive (it was wiped out by an offsides called against Rob Ninkovich), another breakup on Green Bay’s two-point conversion attempt and also a very nice takedown in run support against James Starks.
“I have a lot of things to get better on,” said the former Falcon. “There were plenty of things I can get crisper on and improve my game. Overall, as a team we didn’t do well enough to win the game. I have a lot of corrections to make.”
McClain plays with a little bit of attitude. Even though he’s just about 5-foot-8, he is extremely strong and relishes contact. He clearly enjoyed having an opponent to perform against Thursday night.
“Every game is important,” he said. “They get you ready, gets you seeing different opponents and see what it looks like matched up against different opponents. As long as I work on my fundamentals and technique and trust in it, I’ll be improving. I still want to improve on a lot of things and grow as a player.”
As for the physicality he brings?
“It’s part of football being competitive and physical and aggressive out there,” he explained. “Being a defensive player, you always want to be a good tackler.
That’s what our job is. Going out there and being offensive, tackling and being physical. That’s part of being on defense and I enjoy that part of the game.”
Given his style, it could be a part of McClain’s game that the Patriots enjoy more and more.