This unprecedented NFL offseason hasn’t changed much for New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty.
Though players and coaches around the league remain barred from team facilities as the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, McCourty is exempt from those restrictions. He’s coming off groin surgery, and players who had been rehabbing or receiving treatment at their team’s headquarters before the coronavirus shutdown can continue to do so.
So, while most of their teammates remain scattered around the country, McCourty and a small group of other Patriots have been visiting Gillette Stadium on a regular basis. The veteran corner’s schedule, by and large, has not changed.
But with offseason programs moved online and on-field practices off the table for the time being, one important aspect of McCourty’s routine has been missing: the camaraderie with his fellow defensive backs.
“I think that’s the part that sucks right now,” McCourty said Wednesday in a video call with reporters. “Obviously, we have our virtual meetings, but you don’t get a chance to be in the building and really get to know the new guys and catch up on what’s gone on in the offseason and really kind of build that chemistry right now.”
The Patriots’ secondary is loaded with experienced pros — Jason and Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung, Jonathan Jones, Terrence Brooks, newcomer Adrian Phillips — but features a few emerging talents, as well. Chief among them: cornerback J.C. Jackson, who intercepted eight passes and broke up eight others over his first NFL two seasons.
Now in his 12th season, McCourty has relished mentoring youngsters like Jackson and 2019 second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams.
“I love that part of it,” the soon-to-be 33-year-old said. “I’m always talking to — I call him Jerald — but J.C. I’m always giving him a hard time. I’m always on him. I feel like that’s just a part of me. When I first came into the league (in 2009), I was in Tennessee, and I had guys like Cortland Finnegan, Chris Hope, Michael Griffin — a ton of guys that were willing to pour into me and help me figure out how to be a pro. Whether it was the defense, whether it was life off the field.
“So for me, getting the chance to be around J.C., … Joejuan, all those guys, being able to help them. Whether it’s questions about finance, questions about agents or any of those different things, to be just a sounding board. And then when we’re out there competing, there’s little things that experience teaches you, and for me being able to play for multiple different organizations and different coaches, there’s tidbits that you can take from everywhere. And those guys know that’s one thing with me — whatever question or anything that I have to share, I’m going to do so. I love that fact.”
Williams, whom the Patriots traded up to select 45th overall in last year’s draft, faces an important summer after playing just 7.9 percent of New England’s defensive snaps as a rookie. The Vanderbilt product currently is behind Gilmore, McCourty, Jackson and Jones on the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart, with special teamer Justin Bethel, intriguing 2019 undrafted free agent D’Angelo Ross, veteran newcomer Lenzy Pipkins and 2020 UDFA Myles Bryant also in the mix.
Possessing rare size for his position at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Williams reportedly is preparing to play corner or safety in training camp.
“(Williams) loves to compete, and I think that’s something that you need,” McCourty said. “Obviously, at our position, when you’re in the back end, any mistake can be a 70-yard touchdown or a game-changing play. So I think you’ve got to have guys that are willing to go out there every single day and compete their butts off and get better, and that’s what he did last year. As a rookie, he came in, he was willing to learn, he was willing to listen, and I felt like every day when we went out on the practice field, he got better.
“And not only for him being a rookie, but for all of us as a team, that’s what the process is about. Whether you’re in Year 1 or Year 12, every day you’ve got to show up with a willingness to compete — to prove that you belong there — and a willingness to get better and listen to coaching.”