COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Being the new guy isn’t easy, especially when you consider the circumstances Stephon Gilmore found himself in after signing with the Patriots this offseason.
For starters, there’s the whole Malcolm Butler dynamic. It was a rare mistake by Bill Belichick, not predicting an unforeseen tension, and Gilmore has had to try and navigate through a difficult situation that only recently seems to have calmed down.
Then there’s the other aspect of the cornerback’s insertion into the lineup and locker room. Gilmore joined a group that has been together for a long time, at least in NFL terms. So while the holdovers all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, never mind personalities, Gilmore had to adjust to that part of the switch as well.
“It’s been about learning one another,” Gilmore told me. “It’s been a process. Sometimes the communication suffered but I was never worried about it from a physical standpoint. It was mental, not physical.”
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As a group, the Patriots felt like Butler deserved to get paid so it came as a bit of a shock that the money was spent on an outsider and not a home-grown product. But Gilmore has worked to smooth over any friction or doubt by doing his best to seamlessly fit in, earning respect from his teammates for his handling of the situation and for his easygoing, soft-spoken nature.
“The good thing is Steph makes it easy for us all to be close,” said Duron Harmon. “He’s a good guy. He’s quiet, but he has a great heart, always around, always talking, whether it’s not even about football, talking about his family, asking how my family is doing, how his family is doing. So I think he’s fit in well. I think we’re all close. We’re still learning each other and I think eventually this week (in Colorado Springs) will help us.”
Gilmore agrees with Harmon’s assessment of the time spent together in Colorado. There's no family here. It’s just football and each other.
“I like it. I like it being with the guys every day, staying in the same hotel, getting to know each other,” said Gilmore. “It’s good.”
Not sure how this would have looked had it come on the heels of Gilmore’s rocky first month in uniform. During that stretch, a fair amount of the chunk plays allowed by the defense came with Gilmore in the area and after several members of the secondary called the group’s play embarrassing following the 33-30 loss to Carolina. The Harmon quote “it can’t get no more simpler than it is” was read in some circles as being directed at the newcomer. Imagine the tension in the meeting rooms in the days that followed.
But Gilmore answered with a strong performance the following Thursday night in Tampa and then -- after dealing with a concussion that sidelined him for three games -- had another solid outing in Denver. That showed a little something…
“He’s competitive,” said Pat Chung. “He’s a good player. He’s back out there and he’s better. He wasn’t bad to begin with there’s certainly some things you have to get used to on a new team and he got used to them. Hopefully he keeps getting better.”
“Steph is a tough guy, a tough player,” said Devin McCourty. “We knew he’d be fine.”
“He’s a fighter,” said Harmon. “He’s not going to go into the tank. He’s not going to let anybody dictate how he feels, how he approaches going into a game. He just continues to work, continues to keep grinding, and all you can do is respect that because a lot people would go into the tank but you can see he’s mentally tough to go out there and fix what he needs to fix and start playing productive.”
Gilmore wasn’t perfect against the Broncos. He allowed four catches on seven targets to his man, Demaryius Thomas, but with strong hands and an occasional flash of physicality, he kept Brock Osweiler’s favorite wide receiver relatively quiet, save for a third-quarter touchdown. After the play, it appeared Harmon got a little heated with Gilmore, who told us following the game he thought he had help underneath.
Maybe the players wouldn’t have joked about that earlier in the year, but Harmon had no problem laughing when I asked if the discussion was just about getting Gilmore to speak up and use his outside voice.
“Nah man, nah,” Harmon laughed. “It was just us talking about the play and making sure we’re on the same page,” adding, “I’ve never heard Steph raise his voice. Not sure he has one. It’s all good. We got enough people that yell in this building. We don’t need any more.”
“It’s just part of the process,” said Gilmore “We’ll get there. It’s getting better all the time.”