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McCourty, Asomugha struggle to adjust to new responsibilities

Tim Heitman/US Presswire
Cornerbacks Devin McCourty (left) and Nnamdi Asomugha have struggled this season adjusting to new roles.


Editor's Note: This item also appears in Albert Breer's Oct. 13 Inside The NFL notebook.

Scouts look at Nnamdi Asomugha's deployment in Philly, and scratch their heads. Up I-95, changes in the assignments of another corner, second-year Patriot Devin McCourty, have led to serious growing pains.

As a result, both players have taken steps back -- Asomugha because he's playing more zone and more often off receivers, and McCourty because Bill Belichick and Co. are varying his responsibilities and leaning harder on him with less help to his side.

With the explosion in passing, it's vital for the Eagles and Patriots to get these guys right.

It seems it'd be easier for Asomugha, a press corner by nature, to correct his issues, because the rigors of adjusting to playing zone coverages aren't the same as having to man up someone. Personnel people say the answer is to use Asomugha as the Raiders did, where he says he was playing man "almost all the time." But the player himself doesn't think that's necessary.

"There's a certain comfort level you have with a zone because you don't have to play every route," Asomugha told me. "You can ask my coaches, I've always wanted more zone aspects. The more you practice it, the better you are at it, and you have to be able to give quarterbacks that different look.

"I think it's too easy in this league nowadays to be lining up and wanting to do man all the way. (Having variation) is something I've always wanted, something I looked forward to doing."

Meanwhile, when I asked McCourty the reverse question, on the challenges of manning up receivers, he said, "As a corner, that's something you work for, you want to be, where you can say, 'I'm a guy that can cover people, and the coaches have confidence, the teammates have confidence in me going out there.'"

And even though McCourty had a rep as a zone corner coming out of Rutgers, and has struggled mightily against bigger receivers like Vincent Jackson and Brandon Marshall this year, he says he's up to the challenge. When we talked about what Darrelle Revis does or Deion Sanders did, being assigned to take the other team's best out of a game, he called that "the ultimate" for a player at his position. But for now, he's just adjusting to the new responsibilities.

"I think the biggest adjustment is using me in different situations," McCourty told me. "Last year as a rookie, it was more, 'This is what we're doing, and this is what you do.' Now, it's more 'we can play you here, but you also might do this.'

"After you've played a year, your staff, and of course other staffs know what you can do. But your staff realizes how they can use you on defense. My biggest adjustment is having to do different things. And maybe I'm not as good at that yet, but I just keep repping it, keep doing those things and get better."

Interestingly, Asomugha is someone McCourty has studied. "Sometimes he has zero help," he said. Conversely, Asomugha can empathize with McCourty, remembering how tough it was to lose battles as a young corner, "because you haven't trained your mind to get over it. It takes you a little bit longer. But the more you do it, the better you understand, 'OK, there's another play, and here's where I get him on the next play.'"

Ultimately, not just because of the players these guys are, but because of the smart, level-headed people they are, you have to think both will get it right.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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