Patriots

Gilmore after bounce-back night: ‘I took it personal’

Gilmore after bounce-back night: ‘I took it personal’

TAMPA, Fla. --- Stephon Gilmore looked lost. He dug through his front pockets, then dropped his bag to quickly rummage though the contents of it’s outside pockets. No luck. He turned over a couple of towels that still sat in his locker. The sweat that had already soaked through his white dress shirt was now beaded up and dripping off his forehead. But just when all hope seemed lost, Gilmore brushed his back pocket to realize, yes, there’s my phone. Problem solved, at least for now.

You could say the same about the 27-year old’s performance on the field on a humid night in Tampa. With all eyes focused on the Patriots most expensive offseason acquisition, Gilmore had responded, playing the best game of his New England career. 

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As he navigated his roller suitcase past teammates and shoulder pads and loose cleats, Gilmore explained to me what the night meant.

“I took it personal,” he said. “I knew what was happening wasn’t because of what type of player I am.  I wasn’t getting beat. It was a communication thing. That was the only thing I needed to clean up.”

Some of those communication issues that had plagued Gilmore in particular, and the secondary in general, were cleaned up in the 19-14 win over the Buccaneers. The Patriots didn’t get much actual practice time, instead of having walkthroughs before their walkthroughs. Still, Gilmore’s mission was made clear from the start of the short week: wherever Mike Evans goes, so do you. That’s just what the former Bills corner had been waiting for.

“It felt good,” he told me about being given the assignment. “The coaches had a great game plan. When I’m on a guy and locked into him, I’m pretty good.”

His voice trailed off for a second but Gilmore wanted to be clear, “I didn’t just play good, my teammates helped me out. They played good around me. The “D” line got to him [Jameis Winston]. I played aggressive. We all played aggressive.”

Gilmore came to Foxboro with a reputation as being a press-man corner. He hadn’t gotten much of an opportunity to do that through the first four weeks of the season, and on the occasion he did, the results didn’t back up his past reputation. 

In fact, it was an illegal hands to the face late in Sunday’s game versus Carolina that wiped out a key third-down sack and eventually led to the Panthers’ winning field goal. Gilmore didn’t get to play straight cover-1 vs. the Bucs, but even when the Patriots went zone, he still traveled with Evans. Evans finished with five catches on eight targets, although one of those grabs appeared to be safety Pat Chung’s responsibility. All in all, the night qualified as a win, both for the Patriots and Gilmore.

“You have to find it, you have to recover and prove yourself in this league each and every week,” said Gilmore. “I think I did that this week but I know I - we - have to do it again next week or people are going to talk again.”

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NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

NFL owners words not consistent with their actions with new anthem policy

Chris Gasper and Michael Holley talk about the inconsistent messaging from NFL owners to their teams' players after they unanimously voted to change the league's policy regarding the national anthem. Watch the video above. 

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

Rivers feeling good, could help provide Patriots an answer at left end

FOXBORO -- Of all the observations made at Tuesday's OTA practice, one that stood out as sort of an under-the-radar takeaway was that the defensive end position for the Patriots looked nothing like it did back in early February.

Seeing a good deal of the workload on the edges were two players who didn't play a snap for the Patriots last season: Derek Rivers and Adrian Clayborn.

From this, we can deduce a couple of things.

First, a few of the team's most experienced edge defenders weren't available. Trey Flowers' absence from Tuesday's work is worth monitoring as we progress through the spring and move toward training camp. Arguably the team's top defensive lineman, Flowers is headed into the final year of his rookie contract. Dont'a Hightower, who's coming back from a season-ending pec injury and has on-the-line/off-the-line flexibility, was also missing Tuesday.

Second, the participation level from both Rivers and Clayborn would serve as an indication that both are feeling healthy enough to take on a healthy amount of work at this point in the year. Clayborn reportedly tweaked his quad in workouts earlier in the offseason program, but he appeared to be moving fine. Rivers, meanwhile, is back for his second pro season after missing all of last year following an ACL tear suffered in joint training camp practices with the Texans.

Rivers availability is particularly interesting, if unsurprising, since he could be a stabilizing factor for the Patriots' front in 2018. A third-round pick last year out of Youngstown State, Rivers was used as an end, as a stand-up player on the edge, as a pass-rusher and as a coverage player in camp before getting hurt.

Though he missed all of last season, he was able to maintain a positive approach in the Patriots locker room, attending meetings and working diligently on his upper-body strength while his leg healed.

"Nobody ever wants to have an injury, but praise God. It’s all in his plan," Rivers said Tuesday. "My faith helped me get through it. It was a good rehab process. I was able to learn the defense, and I wasn’t away from the building, so I could do everything but be out here on the field. So it was a blessing. It actually made me a better player."

Rivers played on the left side - opposite Clayborn, a right end - in Tuesday's work. That's a position the Patriots had some trouble filling all of last season following Rob Ninkovich's retirement. It requires good athleticism, an ability to set an edge, an ability to rush...but also an ability to track backs out of the backfield.

"I’d say it’s different playing on the left than playing on the right from a responsibilities standpoint," Bill Belichick said last summer. "There’s certainly some similarities, but it’s different. Some guys can play both. Some guys, I would say, are better suited at one or the other. Sometimes that’s a comfort thing. Sometimes it’s really a scheme thing and what we ask them to do. They’re the same, but they’re different more so than say right and left corner or right and left defensive tackle or that type of thing. It’s defensive scheme. It’s a little bit different...

"I think it really becomes more of a coverage discussion – how much and what type of coverage responsibilities would you put them in? You know, Chandler Jones versus Ninkovich or Trey Flowers versus Ninkovich. There’s some differences in their coverage responsibilities. Especially most teams are, for us, defensively left-handed formation teams. Not that they couldn’t do it the other way, but more times than not, there’s a high percentage of situations that come up on the left side that are different from the right side, especially with a right-handed quarterback, which most of them are.

"I mean, look, they both have to know them, they both have to do them, but I’d say there’s definitely more – it’s kind of like left tackle and right tackle. You don’t really see the same player at right tackle as left tackle. Some guys can do both, but there are quite a few guys that are better at one or the other, and that’s usually where they end up."

The Patriots used Hightower off the left side early in the season but eventually moved him back to the middle in what looked like an effort to improve the unit's overall communication. Cassius Marsh got a crack at the spot at times. Kyle Van Noy could be seen there. Eric Lee saw work on the left. It was a revolving door. 

The rotation was heavy at both edge spots, really. Deatrich Wise saw extensive work as a rookie. Harvey Langi looked like he might earn regular snaps before a car wreck ended his season. Trevor Reilly, Geneo Grissom, Marquis Flowers and James Harris all appeared on the edge as the Patriots hoped to find answers. 

In the athletic Rivers, they could have a player who is big enough (6-foot-5, 250) to handle work in the running game on the left edge and athletic enough to both rush (his specialty in college) and cover. It's just a matter of Rivers showing the team he can do it. 

"Obviously, coming in here, your rookie year is almost like your freshman year in college," Rivers said. "So now, it’s just listening to the coaches, staying in the playbook and just getting ready to roll for each practice and just try to get better each and every day.”

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