Devin McCourty came flying out the gates in his rookie season in 2010, collecting seven interceptions, 17 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and heck, he even made a sack.
A Pro Bowler in his first NFL season, McCourty was a stud at the cornerback position, through and through.
The 2011 season proved to be nearly the exact opposite of his rookie debut. McCourty started slow from the get-go, getting torched by Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson in the first two weeks of the season.
Giving up an atrocious number of yards week in and week out and only grabbing two balls out of the air, McCourty's second season was stamped a "sophomore slump" by Patriot Nation.
Was 2010 a fluke? Or can we expect McCourty to recover and return to his Pro Bowl form?
Let's consider the following when projecting McCourty's 2012 season:
McCourty had the misfortune of experiencing a lockout in his first NFL offseason. This meant no time with coaches, no mini-camps, no strength and conditioning, and no real film study.
With a full offseason to analyze his play, McCourty and the coaching staff should be able to diagnose and fix most of the issues he experienced in 2011.
Return to Health
The shoulder injury McCourty suffered in Week 10 may have affected McCourty more than most had initially thought. At times appearing reluctant to even move his shoulder in between plays, a fully healed shoulder will make a big difference for McCourty in 2012.
Higher Level of Competition at Camp
Practice makes perfect.
In 2010 McCourty was able to compete with a guy named Randy Moss throughout training camp. Lining up against a future of Hall of Fame wide receiver who stands at 6'4'' (compared to McCourty at 5'10'') on a daily basis, most likely aided in McCourty's development as a rookie.
In 2011, McCourty was probably rarely challenged on the practice field by wide receivers. McCourty struggled most with tall and fast wide receivers in 2011, something the roster was severely lacking at the time.
With the recent acquisitions of wideouts like Brandon Lloyd (6'0''), Jabar Gaffney (6'2''), Anthony Gonzalez (6'0'') and Donte Stallworth (6'0''), McCourty should be challenged by speed and size every day on the practice field.
Better Play at the Safety Position
Bad play at the safety positions often results in bad play at the corner position. Despite McCourty's down season, the safety position was by far the weakest part of New England's secondary a season ago.
A healthy Patrick Chung along with the recent additions of Steve Gregory and second-round draft choice Tavon Wilson should drastically enhance the safety position. McCourty should improve with higher-quality safety play behind him.
Coined by many as the second coming of Ty Law after a head-turning 2010 debut, McCourty had the highest of expectations heading into the 2011 season.
Perhaps his "sophomore slump" was a blessing in disguise. After a lackluster performance and with most eyes expected to be affixed on newcomer first-round draft choices Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, McCourty should feel less of the burden of pressure and be able to solely focus on his game.
It seems that McCourty should be in position to succeed at the cornerback position next season. Will we see the Pro Bowl-caliber performance we witnessed in 2010? Maybe. Will we see a much better performance than we did last season? Most likely.