Perry: Eyes on Pats CB group with Gilmore holding out


FOXBORO -- When the Patriots defense is dominating a practice, you can hear it. Their celebratory screams tend to build as they stack good plays one on top of the next. It's the players. The defensive coaches. It's a party. Or sounds that way.

That wasn't the case on Monday. 

The Patriots offense picked up its share of chunk gains in the first mandatory minicamp workout of 2021, making the defensive celebrations a bit fewer and farther between compared to other sessions this spring. (Though there was a fair amount of whooping when Kyle Van Noy picked off Brian Hoyer midway through the practice...)

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That Cam Newton, Mac Jones and Jarrett Stidham had their moments through the air didn't fall on any one defensive player. But it was only natural to take an extra peek at the Patriots secondary every so often since its best player is holding out. 

Stephon Gilmore missed the first of three mandatory sessions this week, and in his place it seemed to be free-agent acquisition Jalen Mills who stepped up.

Mills was signed to a deal that will pay him $9 million fully guaranteed and $24 million total over the course of the next four years. The 26-year-old played five seasons for the Eagles and flashed the type of versatility that could quickly make him a favorite of coach Bill Belichick. 

With the Eagles, he saw time as an outside-the-numbers corner, in the slot, as an outside linebacker, a box safety and a free safety. According to NextGen Stats, Mills was second among qualifying defensive backs in Completion Percentage Over Expected allowed in coverage (-12.0 percent) and third in pressure rate (20.0 percent) when used as a pass-rusher. 

Mills has been considered by some as a potential replacement for longtime versatile defensive back Patrick Chung, who retired earlier this offseason. But Mills played primarily at left corner for the Eagles through the first five seasons of his career before becoming more of a jack-of-all-trades last season. Mills graded out as the No. 151 corner in football in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing a passer rating of 105.0 when targeted that season. 

The Patriots have some depth at the corner spot if they're forced to figure out a way to cope without Gilmore. 

With Gilmore out, atop the depth chart would be JC Jackson. Jonathan Jones is another versatile defensive back who has played primarily in the slot. Others seeing time on the field in spring practices are Michael Jackson, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D'Angelo Ross, Dee Virgin and Myles Bryant.

Stidham fired up to compete against Newton, Jones

In all likelihood, none of those options will approach what Gilmore has put on the field in recent seasons as he's established himself as one of the premier cover corners in football. The recent Defensive Player of the Year honoree may not have oodles of leverage, as our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran pointed out, but if Bill Belichick wants to play the man-to-man heavy defense he's trotted out in recent years, having capable cover men on the back end make that style of play work. 


Jonnu Smith suffered a lower-body injury about halfway through Monday's practice and did not return to the field of play. He appeared to be stretching out his legs after walking off the field, and he was seen speaking with head trainer Jim Whalen for several minutes after the fact. He watched the remainder of practice. It was the first time reporters had seen Smith at a Patriots workout this spring.


Isaiah Wynn had not been seen at Patriots practices this spring until Monday. He took his spot at left tackle with the first group of offensive linemen, opposite right tackle Trent Brown. Both Mike Onwenu and Ted Karras mixed in at left guard next to center David Andrews. At right guard was the staple of that unit over the last several years, Shaq Mason. 


Gilmore, Chase Winovich, Rashod Berry and Byron Cowart were not spotted at the practice. Anfernee Jennings, Cam McGrone and Devin Smith headed for the lower field -- usually reserved for rehabbing players -- soon after practice began. 


While Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne had some trouble securing catches on Monday, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski performed solidly. Both undrafted rookies in 2019, Meyers and Olszewski appear to be making a case to be considered for more receiver reps as the spring and summer workouts behind Gillette Stadium continue. 

Olszewski had the catch of the day, reeling in a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone (with no defense) on a high throw from Cam Newton. His spot on the roster seems safe after he was named an All-Pro returner last year. But the college defensive back could command more reps offensively with continued strong performances. N'Keal Harry also made a couple of leaping snags in the practice as he tries to carve a role for himself following the offseason additions of Agholor and Bourne. 

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