Under Pressure: Devin McCourty is bellwether for Pats

Around the League will examine one key player under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. So far we've tackled the Jets and Dolphins. Next up: The New England Patriots.

Under Pressure: Devin McCourty

My choice came down to left tackle Nate Solder or McCourty. Solder has to replace Matt Light on Tom Brady's blind side, but everything we've seen shows he's well equipped to do so. We don't know what to think about McCourty.

Under Pressure

Around the League will examine one key player under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season:

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

1. McCourty is the bellwether of the beleaguered Patriots secondary. He was a Pro Bowler and second team All Pro as a rookie. He was asked to handle more receivers one-on-one in his second season and wound up as one of the least effective cornerbacks in the league. Things got so bad that McCourty had to be moved to safety.

2. It's unclear what position McCourty will play in his third season. Bill Belichick is surely hoping the Rutgers product gets his mojo back at cornerback. That's more valuable and the Patriots need the help.

3. If McCourty played safety permanently, New England's top cornerbacks would be Kyle Arrington, second-year player Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, and veteran journeyman Will Allen. Dowling is a total mystery after an injury-plagued rookie year. That is not an inspiring group. McCourty would make it look infinitely better if he can be above average again.

4. Bill Belichick is supposed to be great with defensive backs. But he's been mixing and matching with spare parts for too long. It's been a big weakness of the team for years. McCourty is the key to the whole operation. Belichick drafted him in the first round because McCourty is smart and versatile. He was supposed to reliable.

Instead, McCourty's career has started with wild ups and downs. So which Devin McCourty will show up in 2012?

The answer will be the key to the entire Patriots secondary.