Devin McCourty arrived to Gillette Stadium on Saturday morning, unsure of what color jersey would be hanging in his locker.
That’s not unusual.
“You never know what’s happening here,” McCourty said. “You come in, and you just go with what happens.”
But for the first time this training camp, the jersey was blue — not red, designated for non-contact.
That’s a signal of progress for the 25-year-old defensive back, who is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
“I knew it would be coming off sometime,” McCourty said. “Hopefully, I can keep it off.”
McCourty looked sharp in practice, and intercepted Ryan Mallett on an underthrown ball into the end zone.
McCourty, the lone non-quarterback to sport a non-contact jersey thus far, said he feels “pretty good.”
The non-contact jersey didn’t alter his mind-set or intensity level.
“I got tackled one time in a red jersey,” McCourty said. “So I don’t know how much of a difference it makes.”
McCourty has been mostly working at free safety — a position he converted to midway through last season. He has taken reps elsewhere in the secondary — on Friday he practiced almost exclusively at cornerback — but warned against reading too much into the switches.
The Patriots’ defense prides itself on versatility. And McCourty said he needs practice working everywhere in case of injuries or unexpected absences.
“I like wherever they put me,” he said. “Right now, to be able to practice in a couple positions always helps you. You can’t take everyone you want into games. You have to play musical chairs out there.”
Switching positions presents challenges — mainly adjusting technique.
“I wish I could say it’s as easy as riding a bike,” McCourty said. “You have to be out there, get reps, and experience certain things. You can’t just walk out there and be able to play.”
Still, other defenders seem to enjoy McCourty at free safety, a position considered the quarterback of the defense.
“He’s a great communicator,” cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “Sometimes I have to tell him to shut up on the field.”
Shells of themselves
After five straight days in full pads, the Patriots wore only shells Saturday.
Top offensive and defensive players were pitted against each other in a scrimmage, featuring some improvisation and a heavy dose of special teams. Coach Bill Belichick often ordered a specific down or distance between snaps.
Tom Brady and Mallet led the first-team offense against the top defense. Tim Tebow quarterbacked the No. 2 offense.
Brady participated in only one series but connected for two touchdowns with Danny Amendola. Amendola, one of Brady’s favorite and most consistent targets so far, said his chemistry with the quarterback is growing.
“Through time, it will continue to build,” said Amendola, a 27-year-old free agent acquisition who feels fairly comfortable with the Patriots’ offense.
“I had a little bit of an introduction to it when I was with St. Louis when I was with [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels],” Amendola said. “So, I got some of the verbiage down. That got my foot in the door.”
Still, Amendola said Belichick runs an “offense that’s constantly evolving.”
So, how much is Amendola studying the playbook?
“All day, every day,” Amendola said. “It’s all I do.”
Running back Stevan Ridley is not immune to the chatter.
He knows fans and media have expressed concerns about the Patriots’ offense. The receiving corps is new and largely inexperienced.
“I hear about it, but you know how coach says, we focus on us and what goes on in this facility,” Ridley said. “We can’t really get caught up, because that’s when you can easily get distracted.”
If question marks at receiver create more pressure for the running backs, Ridley isn’t feeling the heat.
“Brady’s job at quarterback is to handle the passing game, us as running backs have to do it on the ground,” Ridley said. “More pressure? Yeah, there are some new faces out here, but for us, we just have to continue to do what we’re doing. We can’t buy into the hype or what people are saying, we just have to go develop as a team.”
With the receiver depth chart in flux, there are few questions at running back. Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden return from last season, and LaGarrette Blount was signed in the offseason.
Yet with Bolden sitting out and Vereen banged up after practice on Friday, Ridley took a majority of the first-team reps Saturday.
Bolden did not seem concerned. Running back, by nature, is a rough-and-tumble position.
“My teammates are going to be sore,” he said. “It’s a week straight. Camp is brutal. If they have a little injury or something they’re going through, I think the coaches do their best job to take them out.”
Worn with pride
Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson’s T-shirt featured a playful jab at Brady, who turned 36 on Saturday.
In thick black ink, the T-shirt read: “Happy 40th Birthday Tom.”
“I was the only fool to wear it,” Johnson joked.
McCourty said the team had nothing special planned to celebrate.
“Tom’s probably doing some stuff with his family for his birthday,” McCourty said. “He’s been doing birthdays for a while now.”
As for fan tributes? A group in the stands orchestrated a “Happy Birthday, Tom!” chant in the middle of practice. Awkward timing — it occurred just as Tebow released a throw.