McCourty's position a balancing act for Patriots


McCourty's position a balancing act for Patriots

Maybe it was injuries to Pat Chung and Steve Gregory that forced Devin McCourty to play safety this season. But whatever the reason, McCourty appears more competent in the back-end of the secondary, and with every game he plays, it seems to make more sense to leave him there.

New England's acquisition of veteran cornerback Aqib Talib last week only adds to the idea.

But Bill Belichick won't show his hand just yet. When asked on his weekly conference call whether or not McCourty will become a more permanent fixture at safety, the coach danced around specifics.

"I think wed like to try to be consistent with whatever it is we do," Belichick said. "But at the same time we have to deal with the upcoming opponent that we have, and what we feel like is the best matchup for that particular game to try to win that game. Sometimes those two forces are aligned and sometimes maybe they don't.

"Ultimately our goal is to win this game. Whatever we need to do with any of our players to help us win this game, if its within our means and something we feel like we can execute and get done, then we would most likely do it. Well have to see how all that plays out with this game and the Bills. Utilization of our personnel will be what we feel like is the best opportunity to win the game."

Does that mean a perfect world would grant more consistency in McCourty's case? If the coaches had their way, would they have avoided flip-flopping him from cornerback to safety last year, back to cornerback at the start of this year, and then back to safety again?

Not necessarily.

"Hes a pretty flexible kid, both physically and mentally," Belichick said. "I think he can handle the movement but I think the more consistent we can be as a unit then that builds their communication and better teamwork between the players that are involved. There are always going to be some moving parts, there are moving parts every week because of the team that we play and unfortunately weve had, like every team does, guys go in and out for various reasons, so its not perfect."

Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia elaborated on position versatility. He exemplified sometimes linebacker-sometimes defensive end Rob Ninkovich as another player whose spot on game day depends more on the moment than his roster listing.

"I think a guy like Devin, similar to players like Rob Ninkovich, and really all of our guys on defense, are multiple role players for us. Whatever the role is that week where they can help us the most, thats what were going to try to do with that particular player," Patricia said.

"I dont think we try to say that this is their one thing that he can do. Obviously they are guys who have been good players for us and have been in the system and can handle multiple jobs. Were going to try to keep that a possibility for them at all times."

The key, according to both coaches, is finding the right balance between maintaining stability and satisfying the whims of a fluctuating schedule.

"For us," Patricia said, "everything is week by week as far as thats concerned and we will try to just approach each week in the best manner that we can for each individual player and then obviously as a scheme and as a defense and as a team in general."

What that means for McCourty, at least for those watching from the outside, may best be realized on Sundays.