Why Did Jason McCourty Play Safety Vs. Panthers? Bill Belichick Explains

Jason McCourty, a cornerback throughout his nine-year NFL career, made an unexpected shift to free safety Friday during the New England Patriots’ third preseason game.

Speaking on a conference call one day after the Patriots’ 25-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers, head coach Bill Belichick explained the reasoning behind McCourty’s position switch.

“Jason is a very experienced player, and he understands football concepts and a lot of just basic defenses — pass defenses and run force concepts and the responsibilities that go with that,” Belichick said Saturday. “He’s taken more reps at safety, and those were good steps for him. He had some opportunities to play there in the game and had some positive plays. He had a couple tackles, made a good tackle on the goal line in run force and was involved in some coverage plays.

“Like every player who played (Friday) night, there are some things that he’ll learn from and he’ll see on film and he’ll correct, and there are some things that he did well that he can build on and we can build on. So it’s a combination of those. We’ll see how that process unfolds going forward how much more we play him in those spots.”

While McCourty’s move to safety might not be permanent — he also saw snaps at corner against the Panthers — Belichick said trying him out there helped the team gauge the depth and versatility of its roster.

“A lot of the playing players in different positions in the second and third week of preseason, even fourth week of preseason, just relates to building depth on our roster when we only have 46 players on the active game list in the regular season,” he said. “Sometimes, those things come up in practice where we don’t have depth at a certain position in practice and a player has to be ready to back up at that position, or maybe he has to be ready to play at that position.

“And having a background and a foundation in it in training camp when you have a little bit of extra time to try to build that can be valuable so that you’re not spending so much time on some very basic things when you get into the season and you have less time. So we’ll see how all that unfolds going forward, but I think it was a good experience. And hopefully, whether he does or doesn’t play safety down the road, even just the opportunity to do that might help him have a little bit better awareness of that position when he plays corner. So I think it’s all positive.”

McCourty, whose twin brother, Devin, has started at safety for the Patriots since 2012, never had played the position in a game at any level before Friday night. But Belichick said the veteran defensive back welcomed the opportunity to expand his horizons.

“I think our players understand that versatility and being able to do multiple things on offense, defense and special teams create value for them, (and) it creates value for the team,” the coach said. “And those are good things.”

With Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe holding down the two starting cornerback spots, McCourty currently is on the roster bubble. He’s competing with the likes of J.C. Jackson, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis and Keion Crossen to make the team in his first year in New England.

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images

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