Patriots

Patriots

FOXBORO -- Jason McCourty doesn't need the reminders, but they're everywhere. 

In the film room, Patriots coaches will pop on some grainy tape of Jason's twin brother Devin. Jason may join in on the chorus of players cackling at the standard definition video, but he knows what that means for him. His career started one year sooner than his brother's. 

Occasionally a music or movie reference will spark a discussion in the locker room that reminds Jason he's almost a full decade older than some of his younger teammates. When he was part of a group that told rookie Duke Dawson that Dawson looked like a character from the movie "Poetic Justice" -- released 25 years ago, starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur -- Dawson had no idea what anyone was talking about. 

"It's just like, 'Damn, I am getting old,' " McCourty said Sunday. "This thing is changing...Thirty-one is like a century in this [league]." 

The reminders will be as prominent as ever on Monday because it's his 31st birthday. 

McCourty doesn't need anyone to tell him he's closer to the end than the beginning, and he currently finds himself in competition with the very players he's tried to educate about 1990s pop culture. 

He's typically aligned in the second group at corner, regularly taking reps behind consensus No. 1 cover man Stephon Gilmore and No. 2 Eric Rowe. McCourty didn't play in Thursday's preseason opener and did not have an answer as to why that was the case. 

 

"It's just one of those things," he said, "where you continue to work for it. Just doing what's best. For me, whenever my number's called, I'll be ready to go."

He added: "Just didn't play. Looking forward to this week."

McCourty seemed to receive limited reps in the spring, but he's been on the field for every training camp practice -- just not typically with the top group. He said Sunday he's not limited in any way. 

"I've practiced every day so I don't know," he said, when it was suggested maybe his workload has been dialed back this summer. "I don't know . . . I've been out there every single day practicing."

And picking up the defense hasn't been an issue, he explained. 

"It's just getting used to playing with new teammates, that's the biggest adjustment for me," he said. "Being in the league for a while, you pick up systems and it's just changes in the terminology, it's getting accustomed to playing with different guys, getting accustomed to criticizing one another and just building that team chemistry."

Corner looks like one of the deepest position groups on the roster thanks to some impressive performances from the younger crop. Gilmore, Rowe and Dawson are locks for the roster. McCourty seems like a good bet after the Patriots finally traded for him in the offseason after coveting him for their roster previously. But undrafted rookie JC Jackson and seventh-rounder Keion Crossen could push McCourty for a job. 

The competition with others in the corner room hasn't phased McCourty, he said. 

"I'm trying not to put any thought process in it," he said. "One thing I really believe in is control what you can control. For me, each and every day I get an opportunity, no matter what. I'm with the ones, twos, threes, fours. If you're number's called and you get a rep, make the best of the rep. 

"At the end of the day, the powers that be make those decisions. Put your best foot forward and wherever you stand at the end, that's where you stand."

As McCourty works to put his best foot forward -- he was active Sunday, returning a kick at one point and breaking up a pass to Cordarrelle Patterson late in the practice -- he's been impressed by the unproven corners he's working with. 

"The energy is fun," he said. "I said that last year, too. As you get older in the league, being around young guys who come in hungry and just flying around every day, energizes the whole group. It gets you going, gets you ready to practice. The young guys, just their ability to cover. Obviously as young guys coming in from different systems in college, it takes a little while just to get used to some of the calls, some of the terminology, some of the reads. But just the ability to line up and guard somebody man for man as a technique, as a cornerback, no matter what you know, if you can do that, somebody will find a spot to put you out there and cover. I would say that has been most imp about JC, Keion, Duke and the rest of those guys."

 

In some ways, that trio reminds McCourty of himself as a sixth-rounder in Tennessee in 2009 trying to make a roster. 

"For all of those guys, what reminds me is just the willingness to ask questions and learn," he said. "I talk to JC 15 times throughout the day. Just, 'Hey, when you see this coverage do that. When he says this in a meeting, he means this.' 

"Same with Keion and Duke and those guys. Obviously Duke being at Florida I talk to him, he was there with a bunch of [different] coaches so his ability to learn something new and pick it up has been really good just because he's had to do that, he's had to adjust. Keion coming from a smaller school, some more techniques and some more principles that we're working on. JC switching schools, just being able to stay on him with a sense of urgency and consistency you have to have. 

"For me it's a ton of fun, just being able to talk football with those guys to see them grow from the spring until now, just to see them want to come to me to ask questions is a great feeling to me, being older. You know, your time, you're on the back end. But to give back and watch those young guys grow, I'm hoping a few years from now I'm sitting on the couch and I'm turning on the TV and they're making plays on Sunday."

Why take that approach, though? Why, when they want your roster spot? Why help them? His answer came quickly.

"Without the older guys I had in Tennessee, I don't think I'd be where I am in my career today," he said, referencing former Titans defensive backs Courtland Finnegan, Chris Hope and Rod Hood. "I had older guys taking me in under their wing, making me get in the cold tub with them, making me stay after and watch film with them. Continuing to try to push me, talk to me all throughout practices, games, trying to get my technique right, my knowledge, all of that. 

"I feel it's only right the way I repay those guys is to continue, no matter what team I'm on what situation, but to continue to pass that down."

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