fb-pixel Skip to main content

FOXBOROUGH — Through two games, the Patriots have had 10 players in for at least 15 snaps in the secondary. In recent years, they’ve been forced to play that many safeties and cornerbacks because of injuries or lack of talent.

But this year, the reason for the high number is that players are rotating in because the group is just that deep.

The mainstays are safety Devin McCourty and cornerback Darrelle Revis. Revis’s arrival as a free agent has been heralded as a game-changer for the defense.

But McCourty has quietly grown into one of the best center fielders in the league. His first-half interception of Matt Cassel against Minnesota last week is the most recent example of his smarts and athleticism.


It was the first of four interceptions on the day for the Patriots.

“It was a pretty awesome play,” Revis said Thursday. “It looked like the quarterback tried to look him off, and he started heading that way and he kind of just read it well and made a great play on it.

“We just look at that as he’s doing his job, but at the same time, we do appreciate him making plays. He’s one of the key players on this team, and we expect him to do that. We don’t expect nothing less.’’

Vince Wilfork, who has had a front-row seat for McCourty’s career, said he’s never worried about him since he arrived as a first-round pick in 2010.

“You know what, Dev’s always been smart. From Day 1 as a rookie, that’s one of the things that stood out about him to me, is how smart he was, how much of a technician he was,” Wilfork said. “So with the switch from corner to safety, it didn’t surprise me for him to go back there and be able to run our defense and play the middle of the field or buzz down, basically do anything in the back that we need him to do back there, because I knew what he was.


“Over the course of the years, I kind of understood that wherever we put him, we were going to be OK — he was going to be OK, and we have been. We have no problems. He can run the defense just like [Jerod] Mayo can run the defense as a middle linebacker, that’s how smart he is when it comes to football, and he understands the game.’’

McCourty’s smarts come in handy these days, as Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have taken to rotating the safeties who play alongside him. Patrick Chung started the first two games, but Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, and Nate Ebner all have played.

Though communication is paramount in the secondary, McCourty said the changes haven’t affected him.

“I think partly because I’m so close to everybody at the position that it doesn’t matter who’s in there — I know who’s in there, I know how when they’re in there it might change what I do, it might change what they do, so it’s all about getting it right with whoever is in there, but overall our communication and being in has been the same no matter who’s in there,” he said.

Harmon, who learned from McCourty when they were at Rutgers and continues to learn from him now, after being drafted in 2013, said his friend sets a tremendous example.


“I wouldn’t ask for any other leader,” Harmon said. “He’s a guy that plays at a high level, each and every week. Smart football player, somebody that you know you can count on.

“You know what you’re going to get from him each and every week. You know you’re not going to have a great performance from him [one game] and then a terrible one. You know you’re going to get great each and every week. As a player, just the growth since I’ve seen him over these past couple of years is astonishing, because it’s a player that continues to want to get better, he wants to be great, and you see it each and every day. He doesn’t take any days off.

“It’s good to see that, but then it shows me how I need to approach the games, too.”

Despite their success thus far — the secondary is responsible for four of New England’s seven turnovers and Cassel and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill combined to complete just 54.4 percent of their pass attempts — McCourty said the group still has work to do.

“I like the work ethic of the group — we come to practice and whatever the coaches have for us, we’ve gone out there and we’ve just done it as a group and I think that’s key to us being a good secondary,” he said, adding that the competition for snaps is a contributing factor.


“I think that’s why we all come in each day and make sure we’re working in practice, because we know a bad practice, a bad couple of series in the game, we just grab any guy off the bench and send him in there because everybody is itching to get on the field. We don’t have anybody that’s satisfied being a backup or not. Everybody wants to be out there, so everyone is fully paying attention in meetings, they understand the game plan, no matter how many snaps they get everyone is ready to go and I think that can be a reason why we become a good secondary this year.”

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.