New England Patriots: What Would Moving to Safety Mean for Devin McCourty?

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New England Patriots: What Would Moving to Safety Mean for Devin McCourty?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

It seemed that Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty's story in 2011 had mostly been written. That is, until this weekend, when he was moved to safety.

Never mind that the Patriots have been terribly thin at safety, but McCourty could honestly be a good prospect at safety going forward. 

Who knows where it's going from here. With the playoffs starting in two weeks, now may not necessarily be the best time for a full-bore position change. 

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said immediately after the game,

We're just trying to improve our team. We worked with him and Patrick [Chung] back there all week and thought it looked good this week in practice, so we went with it during the game. I'm sure it could be better, but I thought they gave us some things back there.

Non-committal. Why shouldn't he be? Everything else he's tried at safety hasn't worked to this point.

  • James Ihedigbo - 756 snaps
  • Patrick Chung - 552 snaps
  • Sergio Brown - 349 snaps
  • Josh Barrett - 221 snaps
  • Matthew Slater - 111 snaps
  • Ross Ventrone - 30 snaps

Ihedigbo, who had never started a game in his professional career before 2011, ended the season with more snaps than any other player at his position on the team. Matthew Slater, who had played safety only in the preseason before this year, finished out with 111 snaps. That's telling about the state of the Patriots secondary.

It's equally telling, though, that Belichick thinks McCourty has what it takes to make the transition.

"I think he has physical ability," said Belichick on Tuesday, according to Patriots.com. "I think he certainly has the mental makeup—making adjustments, understanding what the concepts are, making smart decisions back there, reading, recognizing—all those things."

But on the surface, the move would make sense on several levels.

McCourty was most vulnerable in man coverage. He gave up a season total of 1,004 yards through the air according to Pro Football Focus. Regardless of how you value yards as a stat, that number is indicative that he was being picked on regularly, and it showed up especially in man coverage.

Not only does putting him at safety take him out of those situations, but it also puts him in better position to do a few things he does best: tackle in the open field, make plays on the ball, and keep everything in front of him. He has proven capable of doing all of those things at times this season.

That is, when he's been in position. And the move to safety would help do just that.

All season long, McCourty had been giving his receivers a very large cushion in an effort to allow him to read-and-react. The result put him in a predicament, where he was allowing plays underneath because of how far off he was playing but giving up plays over the top when his back got turned. At safety, he can more easily keep everything in front of him.

Moving to safety looks like it could be the best thing for both McCourty and the defense, but one game is hardly enough to draw immediate conclusions from. However, McCourty won't argue if it's better than the alternative and if it's better for the team.

"I'm just trying to be a defensive back," said McCourty on Patriots.com. "Whatever the team needs. I'm just trying to make plays on the opportunity, wherever I am at."  

 

Erik Frenz is the co-host of the PatsPropaganda and Frenz podcast. Follow Erik on Twitter.

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