Rutgers' McCourty forges ahead without brother

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty experienced an odd sensation when spring practice began last week. For the first time in his athletic career, he was lining up without his identical twin, Jason.

Oh, brother, where art thou?

"Yeah, definitely it's weird," he said. "With him not here, it's like a new stage in both of our lives. It's a new process, but I'm starting to get used to it."

Devin redshirted his first year at Rutgers, while Jason played on special teams as a true freshman. They both started at cornerback for the Scarlet Knights the past two seasons. Now Jason is preparing for a possible pro career, leaving only one McCourty on this year's team.

Devin doesn't buy into that whole notion that twins can read each others' minds and whatnot. Still, there's no denying the incredibly close connection the McCourty brothers shared.

"You're going to be in tune with somebody when you share the same room with them your whole life and every sport you've ever played, you've played together," Devin says. "You just have a feel for where they're going to be and what they're going to do next. You see it in NFL players who've played together so long; they all have a feel for whatever the other person's going to do. That's what I had with Jason."

The two brothers still talk every day, Jason updating his NFL preparations and Devin dishing out Rutgers happenings. The more important communication for Rutgers right now, though, will be going on between Devin and his current teammates.

It's not just Jason who is missing this spring. The Scarlet Knights lost senior stalwart Courtney Greene to graduation at safety, and they are practicing without Joe Lefeged, last year's other starting safety who's recovering from a shoulder injury. That leaves Devin McCourty as one of the few experienced defensive backs available this spring.

"When you have a guy like Courtney starting here for four years, replacing everything he does is tough," McCourty said. "He was a great player who made a lot of calls last year.

"It's my fifth year here, and coach is looking at me as a leader and guys are looking up at me. If I can help the safeties by making some calls or doing anything, that's what I'll try to do out there."

Jason McCourty tied for the team lead with two interceptions last year, running one back for a touchdown. His possible replacements lack much game experience. Fifth-year senior Billy Anderson, a seldom-used career reserve, came into the spring listed as the first-string cornerback opposite of Devin McCourty.

Jason was seen as having better cover skills early in his career, while Devin was viewed as the more physical of the two. Devin finished fifth on the team in tackles last season with 57, five ahead of his brother.

Both brothers are leaders on and off the field. Jason was a team captain in 2008 and was named Rutgers' male scholar-athlete of the year by the Big East. Devin has made the Big East all-academic team for three straight years.

Defensive back is a position where communication and trust are the underlying principles. Devin may never again find the same sort of connection he had with his twin, but this spring is about establishing new relationships and a new identity for the Rutgers secondary.

"I'm taking a leadership role and working with the young corners a lot, building bonds with all of them," he said. "Right now, it's like I'm a teacher and they're the student. I'm hoping by Game 1, we'll be have a perfect bond out there and be able to compete and get things going."