In one of their first moves of the offseason, the Patriots picked up a contract option on veteran cornerback Jason McCourty. Since being traded from Cleveland for a sixth-round pick, J-Mac has emerged as a versatile and valuable member of the Patriots talented secondary.
After a white-hot start to the 2019 season, McCourty suffered a groin injury near the midpoint in the schedule and it coincided with the team's lackluster finish and disappointing Wild Card Round loss.
However, the silver lining has been the opportunity to continue rehabbing at the stadium. That has allowed McCourty a semi-normal offseason.
"I'm one of the few guys that had an offseason injury that allows me to be in the building, so I've been able to still go about all my rehab and my things that I typically would do in the offseason," said McCourty on a video conference with reporters on Wednesday. "Obviously, it's different because it's not the same not having everybody there. We're not doing OTAs, so we're not practicing, but staying in shape for me has been relatively normal this offseason."
McCourty now re-enters the mix in a loaded defensive secondary that has a nice mix of veterans like reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore and the recently-extended Patrick Chung. McCourty called Chung one of the smartest players on the defense.
"I mean, you talk about a guy who's been in the league for so long and also has been in the same defense for so long," said McCourty. "Pat is a guy that plays so many roles throughout our defense that you can ask him a question, almost about any position, from D-line stuff to linebackers to safeties, and he'll pretty much know the answer."
The veterans are helping to mentor a solid group of youngsters behind them. The Patriots made clear strides this offseason to keep their locker room strong, and by giving both McCourty brothers, Chung and Matthew Slater new contracts, they've maintained a reliable core.
"I feel like as an older guy, with Dev, myself, Chung, if all of us are able to learn multiple roles and do things, it kind of sets the standard in the room where we're all trying to be as versatile as possible," said McCourty.
Corners like J.C. Jackson and JoeJuan Williams should push for more significant roles this season, while second-round pick Kyle Dugger will have an experienced veteran core at safety to help groom him.
"[A]ll of those guys, being able to help them, whether it's questions about finance, questions about agents or any of those different things, to be able to be just a sounding board," said McCourty. "And then when we're out there competing, there's little things that experience teaches you. For me, being able to play for multiple organizations, coaches, there's tidbits that you can kind of take from everywhere, and those guys know that's one thing with me. Whatever the question or anything that I have to share, I'm going to do so. "
McCourty was disappointed that the team hadn't been able to gather but that they'll do their best to prepare and adjust as the NFL prepares to return.
"I think that's the part that sucks right now is we don't get a chance to – obviously, we have our virtual meetings – but you don't get a chance to be in the building, 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," lamented McCourty.
With uncertainty on the horizon, McCourty kept a short-term focus as the team prepares to usher in a new era.
"Obviously, with everything going on, it's been a process where there's nothing to rush back to because you can't see anything in the very near future," said McCourty. "There's no practice to look forward to, there's no minicamp to look forward to, so I'm feeling pretty good and just working every day to get better.
"There's always going to be something from one season to the next that's going to be a challenge, that's going to have change, that's going to force people to step up, force different roles on people. I think that's the unique thing about our league is each year is a new opportunity for anybody to step up and make something of themselves. "