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Who's Leader - Still - of Patriots Defense?

As he begins his 13th NFL season, New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty is keenly aware that each new beginning is a fresh opportunity.

Prior to the start of the 2021 season, New England Patriots’ safety Devin McCourty was named a team captain for the 11th time in his career.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty

At age 34, about to begin his 13th NFL season, McCourty is apparently willing to continue to journey, for at least one more year. Earlier this week, he joined several of his teammates on the opening day of organized training activities (OTAs) at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

Even though it has been more than a decade since he first stepped foot on a pro football field, McCourty is keenly aware that each new beginning is a fresh opportunity.

“Coming back from the off-season I think it’s all about the foundation,” McCourty told reporters following Monday’s training session. “You’re laying a foundation and it’s up to us to put the work in. Get to know guys and who you’re working with.”

Since being drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft McCourty has been a stalwart in the Pats defense. Following his conversion from cornerback to safety, the Rutgers product has been one of the Pats most prolific on-field defenders, as well as one of its most respected leaders in the locker room.

Throughout his career, McCourty has appeared in a combined 212 regular season and playoff games as a member of the Patriots. He has become a three-time Super Bowl champion, as well as being voted to two Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams and the Patriots’ Team of the 2010s.

McCourty was once again a key component of the team’s success on defense in 2021. He served as a leader in the team’s defensive backfield, anchoring the team’s vaunted three-safety sets along with Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips. McCourty appeared in all 18 games (17 regular-season, one playoff), compiling 68 total tackles, 10 passes defensed and three interceptions. In the Pats lone playoff game in 2021, McCourty tied Brett Favre and Gene Upshaw for the fourth-most postseason starts with 24.

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In late January, the veteran defender confirmed that he underwent surgery on his thumb shortly after the end of New England’s season. Despite the injury, McCourty’s overall physical well-being seems to be sufficient to warrant a return to the gridiron in the upcoming season.

“I haven’t had a drop-off in athletic ability and the physical traits to play the game,” McCourty said earlier this year on his Double Coverage podcast, which he hosts alongside his twin brother Jason. “It all really comes down to mentally and being ready, and being able to tap back in and go through a full season. I think those are the things you have to think about, but I’m definitely going to take my time and see what happens for the future.”

Apparently the Patriots agreed. McCourty and the Pats agreed, in March, to a one-year contract worth up to $9 million, allowing him to return to the Foxboro fold for 2022.

New England Patriots S Devin McCourty (32) and LB Matt Judon (9)
Patriots HC Bill Belichick

Despite the fact that McCourty may be entering the twilight of his career, he will undoubtedly continue to be a key component in the Patriots defense, as well as a leader in the locker room. His role as a mainstay in preserving the ‘Patriot Way’ is one which he takes seriously. While he readily accepts the responsibility of setting an example for the next generation of Patriots players, McCourty still takes his cues from the only head coach for which he has played professionally, Bill Belichick.

“I always tell people outside of here that Bill is the model of consistency: showing up to your job everyday and having the same attitude is hard. But he continues to do that,” McCourty said of Belichick on Monday.

“It’s the same intensity and message. Doing the small things over and over and he never slips up on that. It’s hard to replicate that. Seeing that as a player day in and day out; the more you learn and listen, it will make you a better player too.”

It has certainly made McCourty a better player, and a better leader. Though it may be early to determine whether a ride off into the sunset is in McCourty’s future at season’s end, he is determined to make this next year productive…and hopefully memorable.