FOXBOROUGH — There was a time when Jason McCourty wondered whether he’d ever get to wear the same jersey as his twin brother, Devin, on an NFL field.
“You always hope for it to happen and you’re like, ‘Maybe, maybe . . . maybe not,’ ” said McCourty. “I think we got to the point in our careers where we [figured] it probably wasn’t going to happen.”
Suddenly, it did.
Jason was traded from the Cleveland Browns to his brother’s team in New England midway through March. Then, in the season opener against Houston, the McCourtys became the first set of twins since Gene and Tom Golsen in 1926 to share the same sideline during an NFL regular season.
“It’s been a little bit surreal,” Jason said. “For it to happen organically [with] a trade where you’re not choosing to go there in free agency or anything, it’s been really cool.
“It’s been fun to just talk football with [Devin] on a daily basis. More importantly, our families off the field, mom only having to come visit one location, our kids getting a chance to grow together. That part’s been fun as well.”
Familial good will only gets you so far in Foxborough. Performance is the great equalizer, and Jason McCourty has been gradually carving out a bigger role since the minute training camp commenced this summer.
McCourty’s spot on the 53-man roster was far from a lock. An influx of young talent in the secondary pushed veterans such as the 31-year-old McCourty to the perimeter, a rather unfamiliar spot for the Rutgers graduate.
Since his third season in the league as a Tennessee Titan in 2011, McCourty has started every game in which he appeared. The only year of McCourty’s career in which he didn’t appear in at least 12 contests was 2015, because he was placed on injured reserve after four games and needed surgery on his groin.
When Jason realized he’d need to elbow his way into more playing time, he wasn’t fazed. He understands that being attentive in the film room can lead to positive results, even if he doesn’t see the field.
“I looked at that first game where I’m not out there a lot, but I’m still watching it with the intentions of saying like, ‘Hey, [Eric] Rowe, on that one you could have seen this,’ ” McCourty said. “During the course of the game, maybe I brought something up to [Stephon Gilmore] and I say, ‘This is what I was talking about.’
“Either way at my age, whether you’re playing and critiquing yourself or you’re watching and trying to help someone else, you gain something from the film in a positive light no matter what.”
McCourty had to practice patience, seeing the field on just six snaps in New England’s 27-20 win over the Texans.
Circumstance intervened the following week in Jacksonville. Safety Patrick Chung exited with a concussion, and Rowe was yanked early for poor play. It’s possible injury was partially to blame too, as Rowe was limited at practice Wednesday and Thursday with a tweak of his groin.
McCourty was far from stellar against the Jaguars, struggling to corral Jacksonville’s slippery skill-position players in the Patriots’ 31-20 loss. But the volume of work McCourty shouldered — 75 percent of the team’s defensive snaps (53) — was significant on its own, a far cry from where he was months earlier on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
“No matter what, when you put that jersey on on Sunday, you have to be prepared to go out there and play 60 to 70 plays, whatever it takes,” he said. “A guy can go down the first play or maybe there’s an adjustment throughout the game where you’re better suited. No matter what the situation is, you have to be ready to step up.”
Part of the reason McCourty seems to be fitting in seamlessly with the Patriots is his willingness to hustle wherever coach Bill Belichick needs him. He’s spent brief stretches at safety and impressed Belichick with his play on the special teams unit in the kicking game.
Special teams, cornerback, safety — McCourty may be required to wear all three suits on Sunday in Detroit against Matt Patricia and the 0-2 Lions.
The strength of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s arm is unquestioned. Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones Jr. form a fearsome receiving trio able to blow by defensive backs the minute they bite on a fake.
Sunday is McCourty’s finest chance to establish himself as a worthy contributor on the field, not just the film room.
“The three wide receivers they have are as good as a three-wide-receiver unit that we’re going to face here,” he said. “You throw [running back Theo] Riddick in there too, just one of the better, more explosive offenses we’ll face this year.”