Commentary

McCourty, Suh on elite path

Patriots cornerback and Lions lineman lead NFL's rookie class on defense

Updated: November 24, 2010, 1:28 PM ET
By Steven Krasner | Special to ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The odds of Devin McCourty claiming defensive rookie of the year honors this season are extremely long.

Ndamukong Suh, the Detroit Lions' monstrous defensive lineman, is a virtual lock to win the award. Suh certainly has lived up to his hype as the No. 2 pick in the draft this past spring after an All-American career at Nebraska, and New England will get a close-up look at the 6-foot-4, 307-pounder Thursday when the Patriots visit the Lions for a Thanksgiving Day game.

But McCourty, a cornerback for the Patriots, deserves to be at least mentioned as a worthy candidate for the award.

The 27th pick in this past draft, he has been on the field for all but one play this season, and he missed that play because of an injury.

The 5-foot-10, 193-pounder from Rutgers has hauled in three interceptions, knocked away 10 passes and contributed six special-teams tackles.

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
Stew Milne/US PresswireMcCourty, the 27th pick in this past draft, has been on the field for all but one play this season.

This is not to say McCourty has been mistake-free in the secondary. He has made his share of mistakes. He is still a rookie, after all. It's just that to hear coach Bill Belichick tell it, McCourty doesn't play, study or learn like your basic first-year player.

"Devin is alert, very professional. You wouldn't know he's a rookie. Devin has been a consistent player for us from his first mini-camp and all the way through the season. He's really the same every day," Belichick said Tuesday in his news conference at Gillette Stadium.

Belichick talked about the progress McCourty has made, how he's a better player now than he was in October, how he was a better player in October than he was in September and how he was a better player in September than he was in August.

"He's attentive," Belichick said. "You give him a coaching point, and he understands it. It may be a small thing that doesn't come up very much, but when it does, he's on it.

"He's a great kid to coach. I'm glad he's on our team. You know he's going to give you what he's got in every situation you put him in," Belichick added.

McCourty's teammates have been impressed, knowing that he has put down a strong building block to help propel him to a long, solid NFL career.

"Dev has done a good job," quarterback Tom Brady said. "I think he's shown he's very professional, very mature. He's really taken his role and has improved consistently. He's very dependable. That's a good start to a career, [but] there is a lot more that goes into it than one season or a half-season."

Safety Jarrad Page, in his fifth NFL season, is a McCourty fan as well.

"When we're in meetings going over defenses, you wouldn't know he's a rookie," Page said. "He's kind of like a veteran in understanding things. He's good at picking things up. He has a great understanding of offenses, and that's a big part of playing defense."

Detroit coach Jim Schwartz has noticed McCourty, too.

"The thing that really stood out about him when he came out of college was he was a leading tackler on his team," Schwartz said. "He was an outstanding, very physical corner that likes to mix it up. And you don't find that combination very often -- a guy that's a tackler, that's a physical corner, but also has cover skills. Generally, they come in two different packages. McCourty carries both of those.

"He didn't have a lot of interception production in college, mainly because people didn't throw at him very often. He's been outstanding for [the Patriots]. A rookie playing corner in the NFL, that's tough business."

Schwartz, meanwhile, has his own "tough" rookie on defense having a stellar season in the very large person of Ndamukong Suh.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe 6-foot-4, 307-pound Ndamukong Suh has lived up to his hype as the No. 2 pick in the draft this past spring after an All-American career at Nebraska.

Suh also has been able to slide right into the NFL mix from college and make an impact. He has racked up 41 tackles, 31 unassisted, and notched seven sacks. He also has one interception.

"Amazingly, there hasn't been a whole lot of growing pains with Ndamukong. And that's one of the reasons that we drafted him and gave us comfort to pick him No. 2 overall. We've had two very high draft picks the last two years: [quarterback] Matt Stafford, No. 1 overall; Ndamukong Suh, No. 2. And you're picking talent at those positions, but you're also picking personality and character and work ethic and those things because you can't afford to make mistakes at those positions," Schwartz said.

"Both of those players gave us a lot of confidence in calling their name on draft day and with the contract that goes along with it. One of the reasons is Ndamukong is very serious about football. He's a very hard worker. He has a great temperament for the game. He's resilient, he's extremely strong and he's a great learner. He's improved every week during the season," Schwartz added.

"And he's been a marked man since the very first game he played. The first preseason game he played, they doubled him most of the time in that game. But he's managed to not only be effective, but to be productive and get good numbers and things like that.

"There have been a lot of things that he's done that have been very impressive for us. He's a great athlete, but I think the most impressive things that he does are things you can't see when you're watching TV. You can't see him work out. You can't see him in the meeting rooms. You can't see him around the fans and things like that. He's outstanding in all those areas."

Belichick agreed with Schwartz' on-field assessment and offered his scouting report.

"He's strong, very athletic, a powerful man, moves well, great feet, gets over and around things easily. He's a very strong, explosive guy. He plays hard. There's a lot to like about him. He has a great future," Belichick said.

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