When Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints come marching in to Foxborough on Tuesday to prepare for Thursday night's preseason opener, they will bring along last year's most productive NFL offense. The Saints led the league in 2011 with 7,474 total yards on offense, 5,476 of which came from Brees and his high-powered aerial attack.
Slowing down the New Orleans offense will be no small feat for the Patriots secondary, which will, if for only a handful of plays, face the league's best in its first action against another NFL offense. This may seem like quite the daunting task, especially for the three rookies and four second-year players who populate the defensive backfield.
These younger players would do well to listen to the advice of cornerback Devin McCourty, who has adopted more of a leadership role as he enters his third season with the club.
"My biggest thing is just to stay calm," offered McCourty after Monday morning's practice. "What we do out here in practice kind of prepares you for those game situations. One thing with Coach Belichick, we do a lot of different situations just here at practice, so just stay calm, you're prepared for anything. If you feel like we haven't went over something, just go back to fundamentals."
"That's kind of what I tell the rookies: just stay calm, use what we've been learning, and just go out there and play football."
McCourty is in a good position to talk, as he has been through a lot in just two years in the NFL. The Patriots 2010 first-round draft pick put together an impressive rookie season, finishing second in the league with seven interceptions and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl.
He suffered through a sophomore slump in 2011, however, recording just two picks and giving up some big plays in the team's much-maligned secondary. Having been at both ends of the spectrum, McCourty hopes to begin 2012 with a fresh start.
"I just think we're trying to be ready to go this year. Last year is over. Some good, some bad, whatever that is, it's over for us, and now I think it's focused on this team and this year. As a secondary, we're trying to be there for this defense and be a big part of it, because we know we have to."
The road to improvement will start this week, as McCourty and company will see how they hold up against one of the league's top offenses. McCourty says he can't wait for the opportunity. "We know it's going to be real competitive. They have good players, we have good players, so it'll just be a chance to go against someone else and be competitive."