FOXBORO -- For anyone looking to make sense of the Stephon Gilmore signing this offseason, all they had to do was look at the Patriots schedule. With a slate of NFC South games ahead, Bill Belichick would have to try to find a way to defend Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin, New Orleans' Mike Thomas, Tampa Bay's Mike Evans and Atlanta's Julio Jones.
All big. All fast. All physical mismatches for most corners.
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It wasn't the only reason to pay Gilmore as one of the top players at his position during free agency, but it wasn't a bad one -- because it's not just the NFC South. The rest of the league is getting bigger, faster and stronger at receiver and having someone with Gilmore's physical traits for the foreseeable future seemed like a logical desire to act on.
But will Gilmore be available for when the Patriots welcome Jones and the Falcons to Gillette Stadium this weekend? After missing Sunday's game against the Jets with a concussion, Gilmore was not present for the start of Wednesday's practice. New England's other long, athletic corner Eric Rowe -- who hasn't practiced or played since aggravating a groin issue in Week 4 -- was also missing from the practice.
Though there's still time for both players to get back on the field for Week 7, if neither is able to go it would leave Malcolm Butler, Johnson Bademosi and Jonathan Jones at corner to figure out Jones and his fellow Falcons wideouts.
The last time the Patriots and Falcons met, Butler played Jones only briefly. It was Logan Ryan and Rowe who saw the majority of snaps on Atlanta's No. 1.
Bademosi saw his first defensive action of the season against the Jets, playing in 73 of 76 possible snaps and allowing three catches on three targets for 39 yards. At 6-feet, 206 pounds, Bademosi might be the player best suited to match Jones physically, but as a core special teamer for the Patriots -- and for the Lions (he played in 54 percent of Detroit's defensive snaps in 2016, a career-high) -- his level of game experience in the secondary doesn't match that of Gilmore or Rowe.
Before going up against arguably the game's best receiver, it will be worth watching if Belichick's corner depth will see any improvements this week.
"He’s an outstanding player," Belichick said of Jones. "He’s a great blocker, strong after the catch. He’s made tremendous catches down the field. Again, he can take short plays and turn them into big plays, break tackles, gain a lot of extra yards, makes some tough first downs. He helps them in the running game, too, blocking on the perimeter. He’s a complete player."