Devin McCourty had a rough go in 2011. Will he bounce back in his third season and be the player every Patriots fan expected after 2010?

He can, and I think he will. Compare the numbers from his first two seasons:

2010: 82 tackles [69 solo], 17 passes defended, 7 interceptions (tied for second most in the NFL), 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles - Pro Bowl

2011: 87 tackles [65 solo], 13 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles

What was even more spectacular about his rookie season was that 14 of those 17 defended passes came from at least 15 yards downfield, as well as every interception he had.

It was a stellar campaign, but this past season most of those numbers dropped. He let up a lot of long passes in 2011, and some of those came at crucial points in games. I credit that [in part] to the lockout.

The lockout really hurt some players trying to make the leap from good to great, because it kept them out of the locker room and away from their coaches. These players basically had to build off of their rookie seasons alone, and that is tough for certain players. Some people are self-motivated better than others, and McCourty obviously is not one of those guys. He came into camp after the lockout out of shape and mentally weak. The expectations were high, and he did not live up to them.

The Patriots secondary as a whole should be better in 2012, which could help McCourty’s numbers and confidence. They cannot get much worse. It was the second worst secondary of all time, so even minor improvements could go a long way. The additions of Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson will help at the safety position, and Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling are coming back healthy. There is also potential for players like Sterling Moore to build off of spectacular finishes last year.

I am not saying this secondary will be top 10, but if they can actually stay healthy for once, it would not be crazy to think they could be ranked nearly 10 spots higher than last season. All of these things will help McCourty. Last year, a lot of the pressure was on him. This time, the pressure is on everyone on the defensive side of the ball.

The sophomore slump is over. It is time to step up. This really is a make or break year for McCourty; after 2012 he will only have one more year on his contract. It will be much easier for him to get an extension if he is good than if he is mediocre at best. I am a believer in the Patriots 2010 first-round draft pick. I have seen his potential, just as every fan have, and I believe that with the right attitude and the right training he can get back to where he was two years ago.