FOXBORO, Mass. —There were moments during training camp when Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty was starving for a good meal.
That’s because wide receiver Randy Moss consistently took his lunch and danced all over him every day at practice.
Moss routinely beat McCourty during one-on-one drills, and the future Hall of Famer made the rookie look helpless. McCourty typically held his own against other receivers, but Moss simply had his number.
Clearly, McCourty has significantly improved as the season has gone on, and there’s no doubt he has emerged as the Patriots' best cornerback, as well as one of their brightest surprises of 2010. With Moss coming back to town this weekend, McCourty will have something of a barometer to measure his progress over the last couple of months.
"Getting a chance to go against a future Hall of Famer every day in practice, I think, was a reason that I was prepared to start the season being on the field," McCourty said. "Just working against him every day was probably the biggest challenge I've ever had as a corner, so that helped."
McCourty said he "learned a lot" from practicing against Moss. After plays, Moss would tell McCourty what he could have done differently in coverage, and Moss noted certain things he and other wide receivers don’t like during the play.
Even though Moss has tipped his hand to McCourty, the rookie cornerback sounded smart enough to know that might not mean a heck of a lot Sunday at Gillette Stadium. After all, Moss has been producing for 14 seasons, and the book has long since been out on him. That hasn’t exactly worked in favor of other defensive backs prior to McCourty.
"I think a lot of people know that about him, the different things he does well," McCourty said. "His ability to keep doing those things well is why he’s a great player.
"I watched him growing up and when I was in school. Nothing seemed to work [for defenses], so we’ll just go out there and try to compete."
At the end of the day, McCourty has been very appreciative of the knowledge Moss dropped on him. When McCourty first started lining up against Moss, the 23-year-old from Rutgers admitted it was nerve wracking but forced himself to settle down.
That same anxiety may resurface Sunday, particularly with so much pride on the line on each side, but as the game wears on, McCourty might surprise Moss with his early-season progress.
"You’re kind of nervous at first,” McCourty said of those initial reps against Moss, "and then you realize you’re getting a chance to compete against one of the best."