When spring practice began at the beginning of last month, there was a different feeling for Devin McCourty. For the first time he could remember, he looked to his side and didn't see the familiar presence of his twin brother, Jason.
That's when it hit him that things would be different this season."Devin's not the most outspoken guy," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said after Thursday's practice. "But I asked him, 'Is it a little weird without your brother here?' And he just said, 'Yeah.'"
But now, Devin will have to get used to the fact that his twin brother is no longer with him back in the Rutgers secondary. Because Devin redshirted his freshman year and Jason did not, they have been forced to separate. But don't shed any tears for McCourty. He's taken full advantage of his new role as elder statesman in the defensive backfield.
With a younger and less experienced secondary playing around him, McCourty hasn't had time to worry about his brother not being alongside him anymore.
"This spring has been about my new role on the team," McCourty said. "Last year, I was a leader on the team, but I felt like I was a co-leader back there with my brother and Courtney (Greene), who played more snaps than I did on the field. So I just felt like I was another guy in charge with them. But this year, I'm the guy with the most experience."
This season will be McCourty's third straight as a starting cornerback. But unlike in the previous two, he will be surrounded with talented but unproven cornerbacks, players like sophomores David Rowe and Brandon Jones, as well as junior Brandon Bing.
So in addition to adjusting to being the veteran presence in the secondary, McCourty's also having to make sure that everyone else is on the same wavelength.
"Whenever I'm not in on a play -- when I used to be back there talking with guys -- now I find myself glued in on every corner," he said. "Just trying to give them little tips to help them perform better on the field. So they can get a little edge to help them learn before they even step foot in the game."
That has helped keep McCourty's focus away from the fact that he's no longer getting to play alongside his brother.
Heading into spring practice, he was slightly nervous about how it was going to feel not having Jason back there with him. But with Schiano leaning on him to take more of a leadership role this season, his feeling quickly turned to excitement.
"Being in a new role on the team, guys are looking at you or up to you," McCourty said. "Whether it's something on the field or off the field in life, they can ask you the question because they know you've been here before. So it's an exciting role and you've got to really embrace it."
Schiano has seen McCourty do just that. And while he might not be the most vocal player on the field, he's found other ways to get the message across to the rest of the secondary. But even with all of that, he still got a funny feeling Thursday afternoon during practice. There on the sidelines were a number of players from last season's team -- including his brother Jason.
"Seeing all those guys, it's strange," McCourty said. "I've always been taking the field with all of them and playing with them. Now, they're watching you like they're older guys."
Another practice, another running back out with an injury. Thursday it was Tyrone Putman, the walk-on from the track team who suffered a serious left arm injury and had to be taken to a nearby hospital.
"It's scary," Schiano said. "As I run over to every kid I can tell if they're down or if they're down. And he was down."
RT Kevin Haslam (leg) returned to practice for the first time in two weeks. However, LT Anthony Davis did not practice because Schiano said he "dinged his head."