McCourty eager to get to work

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Although the routine is the same each year, the traditional jersey presentation for the Patriots' top draft choice often helps establish the tone that the team is trying to set.

Patriots followers might remember 2005 when offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who grew up on a California cattle ranch and dreamed of being a professional steer roper, said he bought his first suit for the occasion. The tone that year was meat-and-potatoes, straight-forward, smashmouth football -- and that's exactly how it unfolded. Mankins might have been a no-frills pick, but he was a good one.

The following year, when both first-rounder Laurence Maroney and second-rounder Chad Jackson were part of the ceremony, Maroney got a jersey and Jackson, from the University of Florida, received a Patriots winter parka. The tone that year was offensive firepower and in retrospect, the winter parka was fitting for Jackson, who never heated up and often seemed out of place during his short tenure with the club.

So what tone was set as sharply dressed cornerback Devin McCourty walked onto the Gillette Stadium field with owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft early Saturday afternoon?

The message from Robert Kraft was that the 5-foot-10, 196-pound McCourty totaled more tackles than any cornerback in college football last season, which highlights the physical aspect of his game.

In that sense, the 10-minute presentation had a bit of a Ty Law-like twist to it.

Law, of course, was the Patriots' first-round draft choice in 1995. Longtime Patriots followers might have recalled that Law wasn't a 'sexy' pick that year, as some had questions about his speed, but there was no doubting his physical style of play. He turned out to be an excellent first-round draft choice, and the Patriots would be thrilled if McCourty -- who combines his physical play with top-end speed -- produces similar results.

"This is my first time here and I'm just still blown away," McCourty said after posing for photographs with the traditional No. 1 jersey for the team's top pick. "Just coming out of the locker room and walking out onto the field and realizing this is where I'll be able to come out and play football on Sundays, it's amazing."

The 22-year-old McCourty has been surprised at the attention he's received since the Patriots selected him 27th overall Thursday night. "Playing at Rutgers is not as much exposure," he said.

Not all the attention has been positive in New England, where some fans have panned the pick because it didn't address one of the team's more pressing needs, such as the pass rush. Another factor might have been that McCourty's name was seldom attached to the Patriots leading up to the draft, so he's somewhat of an unknown to many, despite the fact that multiple teams were prepared to select him after the Patriots, according to published reports.

The negativity doesn't seem to have fazed McCourty, who relayed a conversation he had with coach Bill Belichick upon his arrival at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.

"He was telling me there are different things that come along with being a first-round pick," McCourty said.

The point that Belichick was likely trying to reinforce was that the first-round draft choice of a team will have the eyes of all the other rookies watching him. Thus, how McCourty approaches his work will have a trickle-down effect on the team's other 11 draft picks, putting him in a leadership position.

In an offseason in which Robert Kraft has stressed the importance of locker room chemistry and the right mix of players, it's hardly surprising that the Patriots liked McCourty, as one scout called him one of the 'cleanest' prospects in the draft, meaning he was a high-impact performer on the field who had no off-field questions attached to his resume.

If the Patriots' choice was between McCourty and receiver Dez Bryant, perhaps that factor tipped the scales in favor of McCourty, who was already saying Saturday that he is eager to get to work and that it will be important for him to avoid any type of contract holdout.

"I think it's very urgent. I'm not used to being a guy that's not practicing," he said. "I told my agent that I want to be able to play and get with a team and get going as soon as possible. The first day of camp, I want to be here playing."

On the day that Robert Kraft held his 17th jersey presentation as Patriots owner, the tone was easily felt. McCourty is physical and all about football.

His selection, in many ways, defines the New England Patriots' 2010 draft class.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.