By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots said farewell to Malcolm Butler in the early days of free agency but just days later swung a trade with the Browns to acquire veteran cornerback Jason McCourty. The prevailing thought was that McCourty could slide right into a starting role in the Patriots’ defense, with Stephon Gilmore still locking down the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

That scenario may still play out, but early on in his Patriots career, McCourty is not getting tremendous opportunity.

According to NESN’s Zack Cox, McCourty has been present on the sideline during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills thus far through OTAs and minicamp.

From Cox:

McCourty, the twin brother of Patriots safety Devin McCourty, has yet to take a single rep in team drills during the three sessions that have been open to the media. The reason for this remains unclear.

After Tuesday’s session, McCourty sidestepped a question about whether he’s dealing with an injury.

“Just being out here has been good,” the 10-year veteran said. “I’m just going with the flow of everything happening. I’m just happy to be out here and happy to be a part of this organization now moving forward.”

While injured players have split off from the team to run through conditioning drills, McCourty has stayed with the main team for the duration of each practice, watching 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s from the sideline. McCourty has been viewed as a leading candidate to take over the starting cornerback job formerly held by Malcolm Butler, and his absence from the team portion of practice has allowed others to take on heavier workloads. Undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson has lined up opposite Stephon Gilmore in the first-team defense in each of the past two open sessions.

Of course — of course — it must be reiterated that it is still early June, so the fact that J.C. Jackson is getting starter’s reps in minicamps does not mean that the undrafted rookie has secured a starting spot on the defense. Jackson has not even secured a roster spot, period.

It’s possible — and, realistically, likely — that the Patriots generally know what they have in McCourty, while there’s a lot they don’t know about Jackson, Duke Dawson, Keion Crossen and Jomal Wiltz, among others. Giving more reps to the players who have yet to go up against NFL players could be considered the best use of time for the coaching staff.

One could also make the joke, if one were so inclined, that the job of replacing Butler would require a veteran cornerback to be comfortable standing on the sidelines and watching his teammates play. But such a joke would be a very poor joke, at best.

Nevertheless, it’s at least noteworthy that at this point of the offseason, Jason McCourty is getting as many practice reps for the Patriots as he did when he was a member of the Titans and Browns.

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