FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick, who has been adept at creating effective disguises on defense over his 43-year coaching career, chuckled when he was asked about the possibilities with identical twin brothers Devin and Jason McCourty.
"It's hard to tell them apart," he said, smiling. "Got to take a second look to make sure I'm talking to the right one if they're not in uniform."
The McCourtys are one of the NFL's most notable sets of twins, and what has made 2018 particularly exciting for them is that they have a chance to play together with the New England Patriots. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the last time twins have played together in the regular season on the same professional team was 1926, when Gene and Tom Golsen suited up for the Louisville Colonels.
For the McCourtys, it is the first time they've been teammates since their time together at Rutgers from 2006-08.
Jason, who entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2009, has been a steady cornerback with Tennessee (2009-16) and Cleveland (2017).
Meanwhile, Devin was a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2010 and has been with the franchise since, moving from cornerback to safety in his third season and elevating to captain in his second year.
The brothers talk all the time, but now that conversation can extend to the football field. Devin also notes that Jason's experience playing for the winless Browns last season -- and having never appeared in a playoff game -- brings an important perspective to the locker room.
"It's something we always dreamed about, kind of thought would happen, but, you know, you kind of second-guess that and think maybe not," Devin said. "I know he's been a good player throughout his career, aside from us being twins or any of that. I thought he had a good year in Cleveland that helped him, and I thought a change of scenery might help him here. I think he has an opportunity to help us, as a veteran, a guy that's played a lot of football, been in different circumstances."
Jason fondly recalled the first time they were teammates, in Pop Warner with the Valley Cottage Indians in New York.
"We played our games Sunday mornings, and as we moved up, they moved the times later and later. We'd wake up, go outside, and we'd go over all the plays that we had in for the day. If one of us was the running back, the other one's pretending to hand him the ball off as the quarterback or throwing passes," he said. "I just remember us always trying to compete with one another, but for the most part just wanting to be on the same team, to push each other to try to succeed together. Those are probably some of the most fun memories when it comes to football."
As it turned out, Devin played a part in Jason winding up with the Patriots this year, where he is a candidate to replace Malcolm Butler as a starter opposite Stephon Gilmore. The Browns had called Jason to inform him of their plans to release him, which Jason relayed to his family before going to the gym for a workout.
During that time, and before the Browns officially released Jason, Devin sent a text message to Patriots assistant coach Brian Flores -- who will handle defensive coordinator duties in 2018 with Matt Patricia hired as Lions head coach -- inquiring about the chances of the team picking him up.
Flores, in turn, relayed the message to Belichick, who, it turns out, had already been in contact with the Browns on a trade that included a swap of late-round draft picks.
"Then I get a FaceTime from Dev while I'm working out, and he was just like, ‘We're going to trade for you. You're coming to New England.'" Jason recalled. "I thought he was joking around."
Such jokes are commonplace when the McCourty brothers are together.
As for what it looks like on the football field, they're both excited to find out, a decade after they were last teammates.