Bill Belichick is not the most outgoing fellow, even in the best of times. So, you can only imagine what the Patriots coach was like on his Monday morning conference call with the local media following Sunday’s 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
A root canal would have been more pleasant, for both inquisitors and the man on the other end of the line. Belichick was terse at times, fiery at others. And when it came to one of the biggest free-agent signings in franchise history, Belichick was more slippery than a lugnut bathed in axle grease.
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You see, Gilmore hasn’t missed many snaps this year. In fact, the only snaps of consequence he missed came two Sundays ago versus the Texans. We were told he was dehydrated. A quick pit stop in the locker room remedied that situation and Gilmore played a better part of the second half.
Then, there was yesterday. Gilmore was bound to the sidelines to open the third quarter, Eric Rowe getting the nod opposite Malcolm Butler. Rowe was in Gilmore's spot. It looked like a performance-related decision, especially in light of Gilmore’s eventful and unproductive first half. It took that one play for Rowe to re-injure his groin and exit the game permanently but it had me wondering. So I asked Belichick that very question on the call. He boogied around it like he was auditioning for “Dancing with the Stars.”
“Well, we rotate a lot of people through the course of the game; linebackers, defensive linemen, defensive backs, so we play a lot of people every week,” he said, without a hint one way or another.
Gilmore came to Foxboro as a press/man corner. It’s in that scheme that the 27-year old former first-rounder has done his best work. Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia embrace physical corners. Look at the work Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner did in the 2014-15 championship season, or last season, when Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan were allowed to get handsy with receivers almost from day one. In a league where it’s harder and harder to play defense, the Pats seemed to spit at convention. We’ll play it our way and eventually, opposing offenses will make a mistake.
This year has been different. A lot more zone looks and coverages than man or press/man. We know the Pats have taken the long view before, maybe playing a little softer while trying to figure out their best means of attacking and finding success. But Gilmore hasn’t looked comfortable, and - as we’ve seen - communication breakdowns are aiding to what’s on pace to be one of the worst defenses Belichick has ever presided over. Long story short, are the Pats utilizing Gilmore in the best possible way?
“We do what we think is best to help the team win,” said Belichick. “That’s what we try to do. We try to win games.”
Gilmore has done his best to fit in. He’s said the right things. He put the onus on himself, saying after the game he needed to get better with the on-field communication and do a better job seeing what the rest of the secondary is seeing. But you can’t help but wonder if the player is dissatisfied with the way he’s been used. It’s not like Gilmore would be the first, and certainly not the last.
At times, Gilmore butted heads with the coaching staffs in Buffalo. In his defense, he had to play for an organization that seems to change it’s mind every couple of years what they want to be and what they wanted to do. One would assume the Patriots did their due diligence although there were some reports that they didn’t legally tamper with Gilmore prior to free agency but then opened up the checkbook as soon as allowed by league rules. A couple of hours later, the corner was signed, sealed and delivered. Has he come as advertised?
“I don’t understand the question,” said Belichick when I asked. Ok, let me simplify it: Has Gilmore been the player that you thought he was when you signed him?
“I mean, look, I think everybody on our team has room for improvement; coaches, players, all of us, so you can put everybody into that group. We all need to work harder. We all need to do a better job,” he said.
Belichick’s not kidding about that, and it will be interesting to see how he goes about it, especially with regards to his highly-paid but inconsistently performing cornerback.