“As a zone cornerback, you need a guy who is instinctual because a zone corner will have his eyes on the quarterback and needs to feel routes,” said Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, McCourty’s college coach. “Some guys can look at that sign and see everything going on around them. Other guys can only see the sign, and you’d be a better man corner. Some guys can play man to man and can’t finish the play because they don’t have the ball skills. Zone corners are usually a little harder to find. There’s not a lot of pure zone anymore, it’s more a matchup zone.”
With Talib playing on only a one-year contract, the Patriots may need to draft a bigger cover corner this year to protect themselves heading into next season. They haven’t been able to draft one of those yet.
“I think it’s a big problem, and it’s going to be a problem in this draft because there are a lot of corners in this draft that have names, but there’s not a lot of corners that have production,” said an AFC general manager. “Let’s take the two UConn kids [Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson]. Both of them are very athletic. Both had decent college tape. But at the end of the day, they’ll do things in college that they’ll never do in the pros. And you really have a hard time evaluating. Whereas [Alabama’s Dee] Milliner, you can watch him play a pro style and you feel pretty good about him. And so what happens at corners, especially the one who aren’t clean — the ones that aren’t easy to evaluate on tape — they tend to err on the side of athleticism, and when you do that you give up a sense of production and instincts. And we lose a little bit at the corner position in terms of the instinctiveness that it requires to play. I think we’ve all tried to err on the side of athleticism. And that err has caused us to make mistakes.”
The Patriots seemed to do that in 2011 when they passed on trading the first pick in the second round (33d overall) and drafted Dowling out of Virginia.
Not only did he have a history of injuries — and continues to — but the Patriots aren’t sure they assessed his makeup correctly. Does he have the guts of a burglar to be an aggressive, press corner? The jury is very much still out.
“It’s all hard because you’re on an island and you’re typically matched up against a great athlete as well and they know where they’re going and you don’t,” said Broncos coach John Fox. “So, there’s an art to being a defensive back. It’s a tough job. It’s like quarterback — it’s a little bit tougher than other positions. It is hard, but when you find one and you can defend half the field and isolate from the other part of the field, that’s a huge advantage defensively.”
The Patriots found a player with that potential with the trade for Talib. If they can’t or choose not to identify a successor in the draft, they might have to dish out a huge contract for Talib next year. Finding a corner would be much cheaper.