Mills emerges as defensive star at Patriots-Panthers joint practices


FOXBORO -- The Patriots need someone to step up and play that No. 1 cornerback role this season.

J.C. Jackson's offseason departure in free agency and the trade of Stephon Gilmore last October have left the Patriots without a tradition No. 1 at the position.

That might not be the case for long, though.

Jalen Mills was outstanding in the two joint practices against the Carolina Panthers this week, including Wednesday's session. In fact, you could make a strong case that Mills was the best player on the field for the Patriots on either side of the ball in these practices versus Carolina.

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Mills found himself covering Panthers star wide receiver DJ Moore for most of his reps Wednesday, and the Patriots cornerback often came out on top in that matchup.

In Wednesday's two-minute drill near the end of practice, Mills undercut a Sam Darnold pass intended for Moore and intercepted it. He then booted the ball into the air in front of the Panthers players, which Carolina's sideline didn't seem to appreciate. Mills also had a pass breakup and beat Moore on another rep during the 1-on-1 period.

"That guy is a dynamic player," Mills said about Moore. "They use him in a lot of different ways. He's good when he gets in and out of his routes, and especially when he gets the ball in his hands.

"It was a battle for sure. He's a guy that, I know if he comes out of the huddle on my side, I'm thinking about it coming my way. He's one of the top players on their offense, along with (Christian) McCaffrey. They're definitely going to be looking to get him the ball."

Mills is off to a great start in camp, but does he view himself as a No. 1 cornerback at this point?

"I don't really get into that," Mills admitted. "I think the biggest thing I try to focus on is playing my technique and when my number is called just make a play for my team. Those guys are depending on me."

The Patriots secondary as a whole had a mostly good practice Wednesday. Jonathan Jones made some nice plays. Rookie cornerback Marcus Jones had a nice interception on a Darnold pass in team drills. And, as noted above, Mills was outstanding. 

It was an encouraging session for a very important group in the Patriots defense.

"I think we're working. We're getting better each day," Mills said of the defensive backs. "There's always something we can clean up. But I think the for us the biggest thing is try to chase consistency every day."

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