FOXBORO, Mass. — All offseason, Devin McCourty has been slotted in on almost everyone’s preseason depth chart as the Patriots’ starting free safety. Friday’s practice might have some people thinking twice.
McCourty dropped down out of his now customary safety position back into his original position as one of the team’s starting outside cornerbacks, where he spent each of his first two seasons and at least the start of his third. The change was both unexpected and unusual, considering McCourty’s success and prowess while at safety in 2012, but Friday’s switch might have been more out of necessity than anything.
The Patriots were thin at cornerback on Friday with Ras-I Dowling missing his first practice of camp and Alfonzo Dennard limited in action, giving all the more reason to have an experienced corner like McCourty fill the void in the meantime — and he looked good, too.
Even though the move was somewhat odd, McCourty excelled in his time on the corner during the practice, beating rookies Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins on separate occasions, sticking tight with both receivers and batting the ball away from Boyce. He also proved to be a handful in the 1-on-1 drills down by the goal line, swatting two passes away from receivers in the back of the end zone and sticking on Aaron Dobson, as the much taller receiver had to jump up high to make a catch. Planned or unplanned, McCourty made the most of his day on the corner.
McCourty isn’t expected to stick at cornerback, especially with the depth at the position, once Dennard and Dowling make their expected returns. He is a better fit at safety and seems to have carved out a future for himself at the position. Either way, Bill Belichick must be smiling bright to know that he can always turn to the former Pro Bowl corner if he’s ever in a bind like he was on Friday.
1. Chandler Jones — He was a handful for offensive linemen, including Nate Solder, in the 1-on-1 drills and made some great pushes off the edge during 11-on-11s.
2. Ryan Mallett — He was much more accurate and showed off his cannon arm more often, including one deep bomb to Dobson on a flea flicker.
3. Jamie Collins — He spent some time out in the slot in coverage, sticking with tight ends and even Julian Edelman at one point. He also forced another fumble — his third in two days — on fullback Ben Bartholemew in ball-security drills.
1. Brandon Jones — He got beat time and again in 1-on-1s on Friday and appeared to be the weakest corner on the field, letting Thompkins, Dobson and Kamar Aiken burn him.
2. Michael Jenkins — He appeared to come up lame at the start of practice, which could hurt his chances on the roster as camp begins to ramp up.
3. Ras-I Dowling — He just can’t keep healthy.
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