FOXBORO — Dont’a Hightower made headlines this week when he suggested Thursday that perhaps, just perhaps, the Patriots defense might get off to a better start this season because of the communication style of Brian Flores.
Well, on Friday, the day before the defense gets to put on full pads for the first time against Tom Brady, Devin McCourty provided more context to the coaching – and communication – style of the man who will be taking over for Matt Patricia starting this season.
“I guess I’ve had him for so many years now, but he’s always straight to the point,” McCourty said. “I’d say he’s an aggressive coaching style guy, but I think the thing I loved about him when he was our safety coach – same thing now as D coordinator – he’s going to tell you exactly how it is and how he feels – what he thinks is best for you individually, for the team. So, I think we always get that from him. I will say that’s more the kind of culture here anyway, starting with Bill [Belichick].
If there are two people who can speak with authority on the new defensive coordinator, it’s Hightower and McCourty. For four seasons, from 2012-15, Flores was in charge of the safeties with the Patriots. In 2016, he moved over to coach the linebackers, a group he’s directed for the last two seasons.
Hightower suggested the Patriots defense (which was in part to blame for the 2-2 start in 2017) would get off to a better start this year because it could play faster under Flores.
“Not really. I mean, we’re doing the same things,” McCourty countered.
So, not much is different then?
“No. I mean, it’s always going to be different because somebody else is calling it, you know what I mean,” McCourty continued. “He’s not going to be the same as Matty P, but our defense is kind of the same, you know what I mean – like we don’t have a whole new defense because Flo’s been in this system for years. It’s a lot of crossover.”
When I asked McCourty to reflect on the wide criticism, including internally, of the communication issues among the defensive players, he said there was some but not as much as portrayed outside the locker room.
“I would say you guys spoke more about communication and asked me about it last year than me talking about it,” McCourty laughed at my suggestion. “But, communication is always a part of what we need to build each year. I don’t care if you return the same guys across the board.
“It’s just something when you play your last game – for us, last year it was in February – and you don’t play a game for months, you just need to get comfortable with that, you need to get back in rhythm, you need to get used to seeing things happen fast and being able to communicate it to each other. So, that’s always, to me, a work in progress of getting it to the level that you need to be out there to compete in games.”
So, how is Flores different with communication?
“He’s the same,” McCourty insisted. “Communication is a big deal around here, and I think that just comes from Bill. It’s just not acceptable for us defensively to cut guys loose, not cover – you know what I mean – 10 guys on the field. All of that falls into communication. So, that will never change, and Flo will be on us more than anybody about that defensively.”