By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Nobody knew exactly what to make of the fact that Jason McCourty was suited up, dressed, and on the field on Thursday night in the Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game.
For the most part, outside of specialists and people at positions with little depth, players with secure roster spots don’t play at all in the final preseason games. So it was certainly notable that a veteran player in his 10th NFL season was on the field to start the game on Thursday. He played through the first two defensive series of the night. And after it looked like his night was over, McCourty was re-inserted into the game for a series in the third quarter — again at safety — after A.J. Moore suffered an injury.
After the game — which the Patriots won 17-12 — head coach Bill Belichick shed some light on what was going on with the veteran player getting so much playing time in the fourth preseason game.
“We try to build depth on our team with all the positions, so guys that play more than one position create value for themselves, create value for the team. So that’s what we try to do. They’ve embraced it. Most everybody on our team has done that,” Belichick said. “The more things they can do, the more they can help the team, the more value they can have for the team. They all embrace it and they all work hard at it. It’s given us some depth. Whether we’ll need it or not, I don’t know. But we certainly have in the past. We’ve played offensive players on the defense, defensive players on the offense. I mean, you just never know. So, second, third week of training camp is usually a good time to try to do that, that’s when we usually do it.”
As for how McCourty has adapted to the new position in preseason action, Belichick said there’s been improvement.
“I think he made a big jump this week. He did a good job last week, made some good tackles, but I think overall just looked more comfortable this week,” Belichick said. “It showed up on the practice field and looked like it tonight, too. So it was encouraging.”
McCourty, 31, has played cornerback for his entire NFL career. He was acquired by the Patriots in the offseason, but he didn’t see the field much through OTAs. He took the field as a backup cornerback early in the preseason, and he gave up a touchdown while in man coverage in the second preseason game, vs. the Eagles.
In Week 3 of the preseason, McCourty got some playing time at safety. And on Thursday night, he was starting at safety.
This could have meant any number of things for McCourty, who is the twin brother of eight-time Patriots defensive captain Devin McCourty. It could have meant that his roster spot is secure, but the coaching staff wants him to be able to play both corner and safety. It could have meant that his roster spot is very much not secured, and that the coaching staff wanted to give him a chance to show that he could provide value as a safety. It could have meant that he and the Patriots know that he won’t be on the roster come Saturday evening, but the team was giving him the veteran courtesy of showing other teams in the league that he can play at safety.
Or it could have meant exactly what Belichick described. The Patriots generally know what Jason McCourty brings as a cornerback, so the past few weeks have been spent building some safety skills via game reps. If either Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon or Patrick Chung misses any time this season, it’s a move that could pay dividends.
Whatever it means for sure, we’ll all probably get a better understanding by 4 p.m. on Sunday, when final roster cutdowns are due.
For his part, McCourty didn’t sound like someone overly concerned about the roster decisions that lie ahead.
“No concern at all. I think I played this game long enough to know that you control what you can control,” he said. “Whatever they decide is up to them. But I feel like throughout training camp and preseason, I’ve done my best. I feel like I’ve been able to execute, pick up the defense, and do those things. But the ultimate decision of whether I’m here or not is not in my hands.”