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Patriot backs are up

Secondary bracing for Moss showdown

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / October 29, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty remembers feeling “kind of nervous’’ the first time he lined up against Randy Moss in training camp.

About four months ago, McCourty, a first-round pick out of Rutgers, and his fellow defensive backs participated in numerous drills that pitted them against Moss. Pass after pass floated over their heads and landed in the hands of the 6-foot-4-inch Moss.

Then, the result didn’t count on the scoreboard.

On Sunday, it will.

Moss beat many of the Patriots defensive backs, but he also took time to tutor them about ways to improve their technique. Now they will be using that knowledge against Moss when the Patriots host the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

“I learned a lot from Randy,’’ McCourty said. “I’m not going to share it, but just getting the chance to go up against a future Hall of Famer every day in practice I think was the reason I was prepared to start the season off being on the field.

“Just working against him every day was probably the biggest challenge I ever had as a corner, so it helped a great deal.’’

Sometimes the 5-10, 193-pound McCourty found ways to make a play. Other times he struggled.

He said it was “nerve-racking just going out there and lining up against him. You’re kind of nervous at first and then you realize you’re getting a chance to compete against one of the best.’’

So how do you stop Moss?

“I’m not sure,’’ McCourty said. “I watched him growing up and when I was in school and nothing seemed to work. So we’ll just go out there and try to compete.’’

In their practice work against Moss before he was traded to the Vikings Oct. 6, McCourty and corner back Kyle Arrington took away tips that were supposed to help them against other receivers. They weren’t thinking they would be competing against Moss one day.

But however much the Patriots know about Moss, Arrington expects the Vikings to know as much about the New England defense.

“There are a few techniques that we’re going to use . . . and I’m sure that he’s going to tell his guys the same thing about us,’’ Arrington said. “He can sum us up pretty well and try to use that against us also. It should be an interesting matchup.’’

One thing Arrington will not do Sunday is underestimate Moss. He has done that once. During the summer, the 5-10 Arrington joined Moss at a rec center for a pick-up basketball game. Arrington, who is 24, thought he may have an advantage against the 33-year-old Moss.

He was wrong.

“He plays above the rim,’’ Arrington said. “The first time I went out there and played with him, I didn’t think he still would have it. Basketball being my first love, I was trying to go out there and show him what I had, but he outdid me. He still has it.’’

Those basketball skills translate to the football field, Arrington said.

Since Moss joined the Vikings, he has 12 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns. But there are plenty of other weapons in the passing game the Patriots need to be concerned about.

Percy Harvin leads Minnesota with 25 receptions for 289 yards with three touchdowns. Running back Adrian Peterson provides a threat out of the backfield, hauling in 17 catches for 144 yards. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has 16 catches for 227 yards and one touchdown.

“They’re all pretty great pass catchers,’’ Arrington said. “It’s going to be a pretty tough challenge for us again. Week in and week out, we don’t have it easy.’’

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said all of the work the defensive backs have had against Moss and other receivers can serve as another way to gain experience for younger players.

“Those guys all have different skill sets and it helps us to work against them, as it helps our receivers to work against different types of corners — physical corners, athletic corners, guys that have a little bit different playing style working at safety,’’ Belichick said. “It’s good for both sides to see different types of players and sooner or later, you’re going to match up against somebody that’s similar to that or has a similar skill set.

“That’s been good for Devin to see and it’s been good for all our DBs and our receiving group, too. He played against a lot of good receivers in college, guys like Kenny Britt. Games are important, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing more important than games, but all those practices against quality receivers and quarterbacks like [Tom] Brady and [Brian] Hoyer, they make a better practice and that helps you in the game, too.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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