By the time Tony Karcich arrived at last Thursday night's Giants-Patriots preseason game, the starters were already in street clothes. But he didn't mind. Karcich was only there for one reason -- to check up on Devin McCourty.
New England's rookie cornerback was once a standout athlete at New Jersey's St. Joseph Regional High School, a football powerhouse. After the game, Karcich, the head coach at St. Joe's, asked McCourty about life in the NFL. Was it overwhelming?
"Nah coach, I really feel comfortable," Karcich remembers McCourty saying. "I really feel like I fit in."
Good thing. Peter King pointed out this week that the Patriots have nine defensive backs under the age of 27. The 23-year-old McCourty and the rest of the young secondary, including corner Darius Butler and safeties Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung, need to be exceptional. If not, look out. New England plays five of the NFL's best passing teams -- the Colts (No. 2 in 2009), Chargers (No. 5), Packers (No. 7), Vikings (No. 8) and Steelers (No. 9) -- this fall. Not to mention Sunday's opener against the Bengals. Chad Ochocinco is already licking his chops.
Is McCourty, the 27th overall pick in April's draft, truly ready for all that? Karcich thinks so.
"These kids put every ounce into this," he said. Karcich meant Devin and his identical twin brother Jason, a second-year cornerback for the Titans. Jason, who like Devin, starred at Rutgers, was Tennessee's sixth-round pick in 2009. (They started college together, but Devin redshirted in 2005.) They've certainly come a long way since their high school days.
"They were 5-foot-6, 120-pound freshmen," Karcich said. "Who ever thought these kids would make the NFL?"
Dueling growth spurts helped, but a hip injury caused Devin to miss the first few games of his senior season at St. Joe's. And while Jason put up big numbers at tailback, Devin played mostly corner. Recruiters weren't exactly lining up. Karcich said Devin received only one Division 1 scholarship offer, from Rutgers. And even Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano needed convincing.
"Coach, listen, they're identical twins," Karcich remembers telling Schiano. "Whatever you see in Jason, believe me, you're going to see the same exact thing in Devin."
Said Karcich: "Opinions were already formulated. But you know what, it didn't really matter."
Devin was a force in college. He started at corner in every game of his final three years and was named first-team All-Big East in 2009. In four seasons at Rutgers, he amassed six interceptions, 149 solo tackles -- including 14 for a loss -- 27 pass deflections, two forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He was also outstanding on special teams, making 49 tackles and blocking seven kicks (including three in 2007). Six of those led to Scarlet Knights scoring drives.
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound McCourty also impressed at this year's NFL combine. He clocked in at 4.48 seconds in the 40, the sixth-best time among corners. He also finished second at his position in the broad jump (10-6), and sixth in both the three-cone drill (6.7 seconds) and the 20-yard shuttle run (4.07 seconds).
His resume was enough for the Patriots, who traded down and took McCourty with the 27th pick. Highly touted Boise State corner Kyle Wilson (the Jets snagged him at 29) was available, but Bill Belichick went with the Rutgers product.
The move must pay off. And soon. Last year's steadiest corner, Leigh Bodden, is out for the season after having shoulder surgery. If the Patriots want to improve on last year's 12th-ranked pass defense, McCourty has to be in the mix.
"The adjustment to speed, that's usually the biggest thing," Karcich said. "He seems comfortable."
In other words, Karcich thinks McCourty is ready. He'd better be.