New England threw us a bit of a curveball today, substituting de facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, the team's safeties coach, for cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer in the midday conference call lineup. Either man, though, would likely have faced the most newsworthy item to come out of today's Q&A with reporters: Devin McCourty's move from corner to safety.
The past two games, McCourty has, in fact, played both positions. In base defense, he lines up at left corner, as he has since last season, when he joined the Patriots as a rookie. When New England went into its nickel and dime packages, McCourty would slide further back in the secondary as a safety.
It's no secret that McCourty, a starter in the Pro Bowl as a rookie, has struggled in his sophomore NFL season. The change of position, then, would seem to be an effort to extract from McCourty the talent he exhibited a year ago.
"For the safety," Boyer explained, "one of the things you are looking for is a guy that can track the ball in the air, which Devin has been able to do. You have to have a little bit of range. You have to be kind of a physical player being able to step up in the box. Devin has done all of those things at points in times for us in the season.
"Devin, like all of our guys, has position flexibility. I think he has worked really hard in the film room and on the practice field trying to improve his techniques. With some things that haven't gone so good, we work hard on those, and then the things that do go well, we try to improve upon those.
"Just from a position flexibility standpoint, we have a lot of guys that have done some of the stuff that Devin is doing," added Boyer. "Sterling [Moore] has had positional flexibility for us, as well as Patrick Chung. So all of our guys back there, Kyle [Arrington] included in that mix, they are very aware of what is going on [and doing] what we feel is best for the team that week of who is going to be in what spot."
So, according to Boyer, moving McCourty from corner to safety wasn't much of a move at all.
"When we put in defenses or teach a technique, it is kind of a holistic approach, so all of those guys understand what is going on in the back end. It is really a defensive back position and then like I said, it is probably as a staff whatever we feel is best or whoever fits what spot that we can plug them in there. It is not a lot of extra learning or extra time on film study or this. Everybody kind of gets what we are putting in defensively from a holistic approach.
"For us," continued Boyer, "it is very important that everybody understands what we are doing at all positions. When we put them in everybody has confidence in them that they know what they are doing and that they can go out there and perform."
McCourty's move might not have been so difficult for him, but for an offensive player to switch to defense is more challenging. The Patriots have done that this season, again at the position Boyer helps coach, with receivers/special teamers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater.
Both have performed admirably under the extreme circumstances. Can their success be attributed more to coaching or instinct?
"A little bit of both," replied Boyer, "especially with those guys being on the offensive side of the ball, they understand route concepts and what offenses are trying to do. They kind of got a jump on that and then from a technique standpoint a lot of things that we do are a little bit different from the offensive perspective, so that takes a little bit of time. Both of those guys have been excellent. Those are two guys that have put in probably more time because they have to learn both sides of the ball."