Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the variety of skills in New England’s secondary: “Everybody brings different things to the table.”
1. Gilmore’s trust has never been higher: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore talks so softly, sometimes his words can be hard to hear. But what he said last week was tough to miss.
“I’ve never had as much trust in a secondary, or the defense, as I have in these guys. It allows us to play fast.”
That’s what the eight-year veteran told Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Movin’ The Chains” program, and it has shown up on the field, where the defense has mostly been having its way with the Tom Brady-led offense through eight training camp practices. Brady himself pointed out, “We’ve got a very good defense this year. It’s hard to complete passes on our secondary. That’s just the reality, so it’s actually great work for our offense to see how we measure up against a very good defense.”
After hearing Gilmore’s remarks about trust — which is so important based on how The Patriots stress communication as a top priority — I asked him to expound on the topic. He highlighted how the secondary has so many players with different body types and varied skill sets, which is critical in today’s game.
“Everybody brings different things to the table. You have to have that, with the different receivers in the league, and everybody matches up differently,” he said.
Gilmore (6-foot-1, 202 pounds) and Jason McCourty (5-11, 195) are the starters at cornerback, with on-the-rise slot man Jonathan Jones (5-10, 190), surprise 2018 undrafted free agent J.C. Jackson (6-1, 198), last year’s second-round pick Duke Dawson (5-10, 198), and this year’s second-round pick Joejuan Williams (6-3, 212) next on the depth chart.
At safety, everyone returns from last season (Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Obi Melifonwu), with newcomer Terrence Brooks also showing up as a player who projects to make a mark in 2019.
Such continuity has the group ahead of a Patriots offense with many new pieces, but Gilmore shied away from making any bold statements about the potential of the secondary. That’s not to say he isn’t confident.
“I trust these guys,” he said. “As long as we have that trust back there, and play for each other, I think we can be pretty good.”
2. First-round pick reminds himself to ‘Trust the Process’: Rookie wide receiver N’Keal Harry wears a band on his left wrist during practice that reads “Trust the Process,” and last week tested him in that area significantly. Harry, the No. 32 overall pick from Arizona State, had three dropped passes in Wednesday’s practice and seemed to be pressing. Today’s media landscape, in which every play of practice is amplified, only added to his mental challenge. Veteran leaders put their arm around Harry, reminding him that not every day will be perfect. For example, on one day in 2009, then-rookie Julian Edelman couldn’t handle multiple punts and heard boos from the crowd. “It can be stressful. A lot of coaches yelling at you. You’re trying to get lined up. It’s hot. But you have to take a deep breath, relax, go out and just play compete,” said running back James White, one of the team’s captains. “Those are the type of days you have to come out and learn from it, take the coaching, and get better.” Fellow captain Devin McCourty said he has been impressed with Harry’s willingness to do just that.
4. Key word on Josh Gordon will come from NFL: While there were multiple published reports Saturday that wide receiver Josh Gordon has applied to the NFL for reinstatement, that doesn’t change what remains the key question as it relates to Gordon’s future: Is Roger Goodell even close to considering it? In March, Goodell said that Gordon’s health and well-being comes before football, and everyone hopes he would get his life on track. “Once he gets on the right track, we’ll get to that place,” Goodell said, when asked about a timeline for potential reinstatement. Is Gordon there? Only Goodell and the NFL have the answer for that right now.
3B. Importance of Wynn has never been higher: Through eight camp practices, the importance of 2018 first-round draft choice Isaiah Wynn to The Patriots has grown that much greater, because the drop-off on the depth chart is so steep after him. The Patriots are taking a cautious practice approach with Wynn, who is returning from a torn Achilles that sidelined him for his entire rookie season, but it’s clear they are still banking on his presence to fill the void at left tackle created by Trent Brown‘s free-agent departure to Oakland. With third-round draft choice Yodny Cajuste (West Virginia) remaining on the non-football injury list, former practice squad player Dan Skipper has been the top left tackle in practice and he’s been overmatched at times. “We have a couple guys we like, but we haven’t been able to get them in there,” offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said at training camp. “We’re going to have a left tackle at the end of this training camp, and it’s going to be the very best tackle that we can put out there, whoever that is. We just have to make sure we do what we’re supposed to do, and if we do that, we’ll probably be all right.”
4. Did you know: Scarnecchia is in his 34th year as a Patriots assistant, which makes him the longest-tenured NFL assistant coach with the same team. The last NFL coach to accumulate 30 seasons with one team was Dick Hoak, who spent an NFL-record 35 seasons as an assistant with the Steelers.
5. Best sound bites from “Movin’ The Chains”: When Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller visit Patriots training camp as part of Sirius XM’s training camp tour, their interviews often produce greater understanding of the team. Here were some notes from Monday’s visit:
6. Undrafted Meyers making a charge: The Patriots have had an undrafted free agent make the initial 53-man roster 15 years in a row, and NC State wide receiver Jakobi Meyers is this year’s leading candidate to extend the streak. The 6-2, 203 pound Meyers was running with the top offense last week in practice, and he made one of the most acrobatic plays of camp when he tapped a high-arcing pass to himself and gathered it in for a touchdown. Meyers projected as a late-round draft selection, but ultimately didn’t get picked, with one personnel evaluator pointing to his 40-yard dash time (4.6) as a primary factor. Production wasn’t an issue, however. Meyers’ 92 receptions set a single-season NC State record last season, breaking Torry Holt’s old mark.
7. Van Noy’s standing reflected on season ticket: Patriots season tickets were sent out this week, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy is the featured player on one of them. That reflects how Van Noy has elevated to become a core piece of the team since being acquired in a trade from Detroit for a late-round draft choice in October 2016. The trade has turned out to be one of The Patriots’ best under Belichick. Here is this year’s season-ticket lineup:
8. Pioli on Belichick building something that lasts: One of the nice parts of Rodney Harrison’s induction into The Patriots Hall of Fame last Monday — and the team’s in-stadium practice that followed — was seeing former vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli in attendance. Pioli called it surreal being back in Foxborough, a spot where he hasn’t been able to spend as much time over the past decade because of his work as Chiefs general manager (2009-12) and Falcons assistant GM (2014-19). In an interview with Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston, Pioli reflected on a conversation he had with Belichick in the early 1990s when they were with the Browns, which shined a light on how Belichick views greatness.
“I remember Bill’s admiration for Coach [Bill] Walsh. He said, ‘At some point, I want to create something that is truly great, and the measure of true greatness is something that lasts. It’s not just winning a championship. It’s something that lasts and lives beyond you,'” Pioli said. “The level of greatness, and the way this organization has continued to evolve through some difficult times, through the change of the rest of the league, is really pretty amazing.”
9. Etling works on in-game mentality shift: Danny Etling‘s position switch from a pure quarterback to a slash/wide receiver-type role has been one of the unique stories of camp, as there are times in practice when he throws a pass and then quickly jumps into the receiving line to attempt to catch one. He explained to me that the sudden change is by design, as it ties to how he would have to change his mentality during a game. Etling is a longshot to stick on the initial 53-man roster (maybe a 10% chance?), but has greater odds to remain on the practice squad (I’d estimate odds higher than 50%).
10. Spencer ‘a great resource’ for special teams: When Belichick was named coach of the Browns in 1991, he hired Kevin Spencer as special-teams coach, and they have reunited again with the Patriots. Spencer, who had a long career as a special-teams coach in the NFL, has been a regular at Patriots practice this year, going back to the spring, and special-teams captain Slater called him a “great resource.” The Patriots have a unique setup with special-teams coordinator Joe Judge also coaching wide receivers — an arrangement made possible by the rapid ascent of special-teams assistant Cameron Achord — and Spencer has added another layer of expertise.