DENVER -- With news that Stephon Gilmore has made the trip to Denver, the Patriots have a decision to make. Insert Gilmore right back into the lineup, or continue to start Johnson Bademosi and pick and choose when Gilmore gets his snaps?
It’s not a bad problem to have. Bademosi has created far more depth at the position than previously assumed, even with the injuries to Gilmore and Eric Rowe. What makes the choice more difficult is how Bademosi and the defense have performed since his insertion into the lineup.
- Kraft told Jones to accept Goodell's punishment, as he did over 'B.S.' Deflategate
- Perry: Five reasons why Bennett can help Patriots right away
A unit that looked lost the first month of the season has allowed 37 points over its last three games - all wins. It’s 51 over the last four if you go back to Gilmore’s last -- and best -- game in Tampa. The defense’s performance comes in sharp contrast to that unrecognizable group we saw in the opening month, which ran around the field like a dog seeking an unseen squirrel.
“I think we started off in a hole and we have a long way to go,” cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer said to me during the bye week.
Boyer has been at this with the Patriots for over a decade. He’s seen the good (mostly), bad and ugly (rare) during his time here. He, like you, was disappointed with the way the season started but wanted to remind us -- as coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have at various points this year -- that 2016 has nothing to do with 2017, even though you think it could/would/should.
“Each year takes a different turn and each year is different for players,” Boyer said. “Players change from year to year and sometimes scheme changes a little bit and it’s always hard. You have to restart the continuity. It’s not the same when you pick up from six months ago. It’s different. It’s different for everybody, even for the same cast of characters. You got to get used to making your calls again. Okay, this coverage is this, this check is that, this adjustment is this, and I think over time when you have some poor execution in play you go back and look at it and say what we’re doing? Is it the right thing to do? Or is it a technique thing? Or this guy didn’t get it? It all goes back to execution. As a team, as an individual, when those things are good we have better results.”
It still hasn’t been perfect over the last four games -- it never will be, if you ask Belichick -- but no longer are receivers running unchecked down the field. Bademosi has played a role in that. He’s been targeted infrequently and hasn’t had the big busts that have colored the way Gilmore’s been viewed.
“The thing I would say about Bademosi is he’s a hard worker,” said Boyer. “He spends extra time on the game plan. I think he’s done some good things for us. He’s competitive.”
But it’s not been solely about Bademosi. The fits are better now. The communication is better. Has he played a role in that? Absolutely. But the better results are about all players, not just one.
“At times, when you see it, when we’re working collectively as group, you may see one player make a play but there’s 10 other guys help him get that play,” said Boyer. “We started off in a hole. We weren’t playing very well. We all had work to do. I think everyone has done that. But we gotta keep working, keep improving.”
That’s been harder for Gilmore because of the concussion that kept him out of the last three games, but he proclaimed himself “good to go” earlier in the week and all signs point to him getting snaps Sunday versus the Broncos. Gilmore’s practice habits are good, according to teammates and members of the coaching staff, and despite some big-game busts, his understanding of what they’re teaching has been good as well. It just hasn’t consistently translated on game-day.
“There’s always stuff you can do to get better,” said Boyer. “Steph’s in that process right now. The expectations would be that when he comes back to kind of build on some of things he’s been able to do, even though he hasn’t been able to be out on the field with us on Sunday.”
Gilmore had another good week of practice. Now it’s up to him to seamlessly make the transition from a Wednesday or Thursday on the back fields at Gillette to the big stage, as Bademosi has. It won’t be easy but what we’ve seen of Gilmore has not been a true representation of what he is. The Pats still believe. Now it’s up to Gilmore to reward that faith this Sunday and beyond.