McCourty's position a balancing act for Patriots

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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.

Texas Hold'em: Noel would interest Celts, but Mavs probably won't let him go

Texas Hold'em: Noel would interest Celts, but Mavs probably won't let him go

The Celtics' two main targets in free agency are expected to be Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. But what if neither signs here . . . or what if the C's have other plans? This week, we'll look at some of  'The Other Guys' who might interest the Celtics: TODAY: Dallas' Nerlens Noel.

BOSTON -- When the Celtics had trade talks with Philadelphia last season, it was no secret they had their eyes set on Nerlens Noel.
 
The 23-year-old has shown tremendous potential as an elite, rim-protecting big man.

THE OTHER GUYS: POTENTIAL CELTIC FREE-AGENT TARGETS


The Dallas Mavericks saw those same qualities, which is why they engineered a trade for him last season despite knowing he would be a restricted free agent this summer.
 
And while he would certainly be the kind of player Boston would absolutely love to add to the mix, seeing the Mavericks go in a different direction seems highly unlikely.
 
But until he signs with the Mavericks or any other team, the Celtics can’t be totally discounted as a possibility if they strike out on Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin.
 
WE LIKE HIM BECAUSE . . .
 
His proven body of work and his potential. Noel has shown flashes of being a decent player offensively, but he’s going to get paid handsomely this summer because of his defense and rebounding.
 
According to Basketball-reference.com, Noel has been among the NBA’s top 10 in defensive box plus/minus two of his three NBA seasons.
 
During the 2014-15 season, his defensive plus/minus was +4.5 (fourth in the NBA) and the following season it was +3.4 (eighth in the NBA).
 
And while his upside is viewed primarily through a defensive prism, his presence on the floor seemed to provide a much-needed jolt to the Mavericks offensively.
 
In his 22 games with Dallas, he averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds with a solid offensive rating of 106.1.
 
NOT CRAZY ABOUT . . .
 
You love Noel’s length and athleticism, but you wish he would add some weight to withstand the physical rigors of playing primarily in the post. In an ideal world, Noel will add another 10-15 pounds, which would put him weight-wise similar to another standout Maverick from a few years back, Tyson Chandler. But Noel’s narrow shoulders and pogo-stick thick legs will likely result in his current 228-pound frame not changing much in the near future. He will still be a factor defensively, but there will be nights when stronger, more physical centers will give him problems. Fortunately for him and the Mavericks, big men whose strength is well, their strength, are becoming scarce in this new age of position-less basketball in the NBA.
 
IN CONCLUSION . . .
 
Noel would look really good in a Celtics uniform, but there’s little to no chance the Mavericks allow him to get away. They've made it clear that re-signing the 6-foot-11 big man is their top priority. And short of Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry saying they want to become a Maverick, it’s highly unlikely Dallas will change course.
 
PRICE TAG
 
Four-year, $106.4 million. That’s the most a team outside of Dallas can offer the soon-to-be restricted free agent. Noel knows the Mavericks won’t hesitate to offer him a max contract, which would give him more guaranteed years (five), better raises (eight percent versus five percent) and a total package of $143.55 million, which is more than $37 million beyond what other teams like the Celtics can offer.
 
Again, something would have to go unexpectedly wrong for Noel to wind up on any roster other than the Mavericks.

Bruins sign restricted free agent Acciari to two-year deal

Bruins sign restricted free agent Acciari to two-year deal

The Bruins have locked up a potential fourth-line piece for next season at a bargain basement price.

The B's signed Rhode Island native and Providence College alum Noel Acciari, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal worth $1.45 million, a contract that breaks down to a very affordable $725,000 cap hit for each of the next two seasons. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound bowling ball of a forward finished with two goals and five points in 29 games for the Bruins last season, and has appeared in 48 games at the NHL level over the last two seasons in Boston. It was also encouraging that Acciari seemed to be tapping a bit more into his offense toward the end of the season, and was building some confidence for whatever modest offense he’ll end up bringing to the NHL table once he’s reached his potential ceiling as a player.

Clearly the two-year, one-way deal portends that Acciari, 25, will be counted on as a high energy, hard-hitting fourth-line player who does a good job of aggravating opponents while playing at full tilt. The real question is whether his body can hold up with his maximum effort style of playing, and whether he can avoid serious injuries with some of the car-crash level of violence he puts in his hitting.

Acciari has battled several different injuries over the last couple of seasons, but managed to be healthy enough to log time in the playoffs for both Boston and the P-Bruins.

Either way it’s a low-risk, affordable contract for the Bruins for a young player who, if healthy, will be a large piece on their fourth line as a diligent worker and excellent teammate. So that’s a good proactive signing for Don Sweeney as he continues to work on a more complicated contract for a higher profile player like David Pastrnak.