PATRIOTS SAFETY PATRICK CHUNG
Q: You've returned punts before. What kind of punt-returner are you?
PC: Make good decisions and get the ball downfield and try to make a play. It's all about good decisions.
Q: What was returning punts like for you in Week 2 last year?
PC: I mean I always practice it. We always practice, so if my name's called, I'm going to go in there. If it's not, I'm going to do something else. I'm not really worried about that part. When that part comes, we'll figure it out.
Q: Did Blake Bortles show you a lot of himself as a player in last year's AFC Championship game?
PC: He's a good player. He makes the right decisions, he has a good arm, he can run, he can extend plays. He's a good player, man. I don't know what people are saying about him but to us, he's a legit quarterback.
Q: Yeah, he is maligned a little bit for reasons I don't know myself.
PC: Hey, sometimes it's a good thing. Makes you work harder.
Q: You say you practice punting all the time. Is it a weekly thing you keep up with it in case you are called upon?
PC: Yeah. I mean, just whoever the trainers are, we'll just go out there and catch punts and some guys that aren't punt returners go back and catch punts. That's not my decision. Coach tells me to go do this, I'm going to go do that and then if my name's called, then I've got to be ready.
Q: Securing the ball first in punting would seem to be an obvious thing in those situations.
PC: Yeah, just good decisions. You don't want to force it. That's kind of a general rule and if you are able to get the opportunity to try to make a play, make a play. Protect the ball, call it a day.
Q: Did you play baseball growing up?
PC: Me, no. Soccer, football.
Q: Because usually baseball players are good at catching punts.
PC: I heard about that. Yeah, pop-flies and stuff. But no, never. Just have always been working on it since college and stuff so it kind of just carried over.
Q: You often find in the middle of the field, a defensive back and a pass-catcher break on the ball at the same time and it can lead to some pretty big collisions. What's your mindset as a defender going into those? Do you have to brace yourself?
PC: Yeah, I mean, if you're bracing yourself playing defense, you shouldn't play defense, one. And no, you just go make the play. Your instincts are going to kick in, just make the play. We don't make the calls; football's a contact sport so some things are going to hurt. But you have to go out there and make the play and see what happens after that.
Q: In your mind, is there any geometry going on there like, "Hey, something is going to happen here because this is where the ball is and this is where this guy is?"
PC: Yeah, that's just playing football and knowing angles and things like that. But when the ball's in the air, you have to go up and make a play regardless of if he's bigger than you or whatever the case may be. I mean, that's your job and that's what we're paid to do, to go out there and make plays. Sometimes you're not going to make them, sometimes you are, but you've got to go out there and play hard. So we're not really thinking about geometry or anything crazy but you've just got to go out there and play ball.
Q: Is punt-returning something you have to establish early on or is it something you've seen guys pick up at the college or NFL level?
PC: I mean, I guess I've seen guys - I don't really pay attention to all that. If you're back there, you're back there. If you're not, then you're not. So I just - I can't really answer that question, I'm just working on my craft and trying to get better for whenever my name is called. I guarantee people can do it, but I just - I'm kind of just worried about me just catching the ball.
PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE BACK DEVIN McCOURTY
Q: What did Blake Bortles show you in last year's AFC Championship game, and what are some of the challenges he presents this week?
DM: I think very poised throughout the game. He put the ball a couple of times in third down, taking a few shots, like one down the sideline where he kind of put the ball where only the receiver could catch it. So I think we've just got to be prepared, obviously, for the game-plan stuff that they know that we do defensively that we might not have seen from them on a weekly basis. I think he's smart enough and a good enough quarterback that he can see something that we're doing and audible or get them a different call that they probably game-planned throughout the week. I think the next thing we've got to worry about is him running with the ball. They have such a good running game with any back that's in - [Corey] Grant, [T.J.] Yeldon, obviously [Leonard] Fournette. When they're back there, that they're running and then a little later in that Giants game he keeps it and he's 41 yards down the sideline. I think we've got to be ready for that and not fall asleep because he's a really good runner. He's a big guy. I think coming off a week last week where we all talked about trying to contain Deshaun Watson, we just have to be prepared for a little bit of that also with Blake Bortles with his ability. If we open up a gap upfront, he'll take off and run and hurt us in that way, too.
Q: He seems to be rather maligned across the league. Do you think the flack he receives is unfair?
DM: Yeah, I mean, I think that's how it goes in this league. If he goes out there and he wins Sunday, I'm sure he'll get a lot of praise, and if they lose next week somebody will talk bad about him again. It seems like from watching him and playing against him he really doesn't care about that. We've just got to be prepared for his best game and I thought he played pretty well last year when we played them.
Q: How do you expect the environment to be down there? Do you get the sense that even though it's only Week 2 they've been waiting for you after last year's game?
DM: Yeah, it's going to be intense. Anytime you play a team with a chance to go to the Super Bowl just a year ago, and we've only had two football games for us between that game, none for them. You don't leave that season after losing the AFC Championship game to a team and not say, "We want another crack at them." We know to go on the road, their home game, home opener, they're going to be fired up. They're going to be ready to go. I'm sure they've kind of circled this game throughout the offseason as this is a game they want to be ready for. So I think it's really going to be important for us to get off to a good start and be ready to go. They're going to try and punch us in the mouth and we've got to come back and be able to counter.
Q: You've told us before that Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] doesn't score any touchdowns on you in practice. We hear guys like Jalen Ramsey say Gronk isn't necessarily that tough to stop. Is there a bit of 'buyer beware policy' if you rile up a guy like Gronk during the game?
DM: I think I talk a lot about what happens in practice when you guys leave. Not that much in training camp, but no, I think obviously Gronk's a guy that you've got to be ready to go every week. He comes and plays hard each week. The thing I like about him is he's not going to talk. He probably doesn't take it personal. He doesn't care and you're going to get his best but I think you would get that no matter what anyone said from the other side. That's going to be a matchup. I know all of you guys are going to be looking at that when words are said and it's a guy coming and talking, you guys kind of want to see that matchup. Even us on the defensive bench will be excited to see our offense go out there because we know how good their defense is. It'll be, I think, a good back and forth game.
Q: Are the guys in your locker room fired up over Jalen Ramsey's comments?
DM: No. We don't really care. We know they're a good football team. We played them last year. We want to go out there and try to get a win. That's not going to give us extra motivation because he's talking trash about us.
Q: Do you and Gronk ever butt heads about being in the same draft class but you being the first-round pick? Does he ever give you a hard time?
DM: No. I'm happy he doesn't. I'm sure he doesn't really care about it now. He's doing pretty well. He's probably making more money from Tide than in the NFL, so I don't think he has any complaints.
Q: We saw you and your brother, Jason McCourty, lined up next to each other on kickoff last week. Did you ever think you'd be lined up that closely together when he arrived here?
DM: I don't know. I guess I didn't think about it. I just keep trying to show him what to do. He's always asking me questions. Anything's possible here. Last week was fun just being out there talking throughout the game. Obviously, being on kickoff together and then, obviously, he didn't play a lot but even just seeing him prepare, once he got into the game and making a play towards the end to finish the game. It was a lot of fun, obviously. I think everyone saw our mom on the sideline in pregame. It was good for us.
Q: I saw on Instagram that your mom had a split McCourty jersey on last week. How does it feel to see her have to split the jersey now with both sides being Patriot jerseys?
DM: It was pretty cool. I think for her it was something that she loved to see just both of us together. Obviously, she's been that one person that's watched us our whole life and she knows how much we like being around each other even though we might not admit it all the time and seeing us being able to play on the same football team. She's just excited. She loves every minute of it. She wants to go to away games. Obviously, she'll be at every home game. It's kind of a unique opportunity that we know we probably only get limited time with and try to enjoy every step.
Q: What's going through your mind when you're at safety and you see a tight end coming down the seam about to go up for a catch?
DM: First, if I can pick it I want to intercept it. Next is just trying to get him on the ground. I learned early in this league. I remember I hit Hooman [Michael Hoomanawanui] when he was on the Rams and I tried to come and hit him blindside and he didn't move. So I'm probably going through the thighs and trying to take a guy out that way and try to see if you can detach him from the football. But whenever that ball's in the air, first things first, trying to get to the ball and make a play, either intercept it or deflecting it.
Q: Does it feel like those routes up the seam are a particularly high-impact type of play? Patrick Chung just said if you're trying to brace yourself for the hit on defense then you probably shouldn't be playing defense.
DM: You're probably going to get hurt. That's what I say when everyone asks me about the helmet rule. Like, it can't change your speed, how you're hitting someone as far as aggression and how hard. Obviously, you can change where you hit someone and I think guys will have to do that, but I still think you have to play aggressive and go out there and try to lay a hit on a guy that's running down the middle. You can't close your eyes and just dive at his ankles or something. You just can't do that.
Q: Do you ever hold your breath when you see Gronk run those seam routes?
DM: Not really. He does that a lot. He's a guy that if we play him in practice we've got to be aware of when he's down the seam, on over-route seams. The guy's a big target and he's fast, so he's just a perfect mold for that. But I think he's done a good job of kind of knowing his surroundings, and then it helps when you play with a quarterback that kind of tries to throw you out of that and makes decisions with the ball for you.
Q: Is it tough for a defense to have to be prepared for both the speed of T.J. Yeldon but also the power of Leonard Fournette?
DM: You've got to definitely be aware, but it's just different because Fournette - he's a really good back. Downhill, strong, powerful guy, can run too. I think that'll change it no matter what if he's not out there. But the change of pace you kind of see every week. You go out there and last week we wanted to know who was in the game - was it Lamar Miller, was it [Tyler] Ervin, was it [Alfred] Blue? Throughout the league, each week you're going to get change-of-pace backs but Fournette's just a really good running back. I think we saw that last year as a rookie.
Q: Is it a relief to have a kind of steady sense of who's going to be back there with you in the secondary early in the season and not be rotating so many bodies?
DM: Yeah, I think we're always trying to get to that point but in this league that always changes. Injuries happen. All of those different things happen. As always, as much as possible if you can keep those same guys out there and continue to get better, continue to see things and see things the same way, communicate with each other, I think all of that helps. But unfortunately in this league it's hard to keep the same guys on the field all 16 games. When that happens, sometimes that's how you build depth. You get guys out there or different things happen where you're getting a guy that's in rotation. It does nothing but help build depth for our team.
Q: Do you still marvel at the play Stephon Gilmore made in the AFC Championship game to clinch the victory with the final pass deflection?
DM: Yeah, it was a good play. I'm not going to lie, I didn't have like a trip down memory lane. It probably would've been better if we would have won the game after. But no, Steph did a great job. I think film studying, he knew exactly what was coming and we saw him make a similar play in training camp, in the beginning of training camp, too. He's a guy who studies the film really well and I think he does a great job of just being able to match receivers on almost any route and then every different type of receiver, to me, has probably been the most impressive thing about him. A bigger receiver, a smaller receiver - he's still able to go out there and cover them at a high level.
Q: You guys have been in a similar position to the Jaguars after losing an AFC Championship game. What's the level of motivation like for a team coming into the season after something like that happens?
DM: I think you taste it and you kind of know what it takes to get there. I know for us you always knew how hard it was when you got there and I think that was the worst feeling, that letdown. And as you come back that next season you kind of know, "We've got a lot of work ahead of us." I think we've always had it pretty good because Bill [Belichick] always comes in there and says, "Don't think because we got there last year that we're going to get right back to that opportunity, and then we can play and see if we win." He always told us when you come back you've got to fight even harder, work harder, just to get back to that championship game, let alone advance and go to the Super Bowl. I'm sure they'll have a similar attitude of just trying to win and destroy everyone in their way and I think we've got to understand that's the mentality we have to have going in there Sunday, that it's going to be a high level, playoff type of game I would imagine.
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