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Perry: Jalen Mills shines as Patriots' No. 1 cornerback vs. Panthers

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Jalen Mills

FOXBORO -- In one of the last competitive periods of the first joint practice between the Patriots and Panthers, Carolina was on the doorstep of the goal line as the clock wound down on their two-minute drill.

Jalen Mills eyed two receivers bunched tightly together in the slot prior to Baker Mayfield taking the snap. With DJ Moore breaking inside, Mills anticipated the move and jumped the route.

Patriots Talk: Patriots’ offense gets some traction in fight-marred practice with Panthers | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Though the stakes were vastly different, the mechanics of the play were reminiscent of the end of Super Bowl XLIX, when Malcolm Butler's goal-line pick launched him to stardom. Mills didn't intercept Mayfield, but he did break up the throw -- and he celebrated thoroughly after the fact.

Moments later, Mills and Myles Bryant combined to lock down a Panthers route combination on fourth down to end the period. Mills, Bryant and Devin McCourty all made themselves heard in the aftermath. It was a clear victory for the Patriots defense. One of many for that unit Tuesday.

Let's identify some of the winners and losers of the day in today's Stock Report ...

Stock up: Jalen Mills

Not only did Mills have the pass breakup at the goal line, but he also got his hands on two more Panthers passes during the practice. While the corners used opposite Mills have varied, he's been a staple with the starting Patriots defense. He is their de facto No. 1, and he looked like it Tuesday, seeing the majority of his work against Moore.

 

After practice, Adrian Phillips alluded to the fact that the team will be leaning on Mills this year, and that Mills has handled those responsibilities well this summer.

"Just confidence," Phillips said of Mills when asked what he's seen from the corner behind the scenes this season. "Confidence in his work ethic. He wants to be able to take that next step and be 'the guy' and he carries himself like that.

"He came in last year and he played well for us and now we move on from J.C. [Jackson], J.C. goes out to the West Coast and now it's like, it's Jalen. He's stepping into the role and he's doing his thing.

"... I ain't making those decisions [on who is the No. 1 corner], but he's out there like, if it's time to go, he wants to be the guy that they call on."

Stock up: Deatrich Wise Jr.

Wise missed the early portion of camp, but he's a starter on the edge, and he played like a high-level starter on Tuesday. He would've had three sacks had there been live hitting, dominating at the line of scrimmage in passing situations.

The Patriots vet appeared to give Panthers rookie Ikem Ekwonu a hard time in a variety of situations. Wise led a front seven that also received "sacks" from Christian Barmore, Matt Judon (two sacks) and Jahlani Tavai. Defensive backs Justin Bethel and Kyle Dugger also picked up "sacks" of their own.

On our field, we were dominating the whole time.

Deatrich Wise Jr. on how the Patriots' defense performed Tuesday

"On our field," Wise said, referring to where the Patriots defense squared off against the Panthers offense, "we were dominating the whole time."

Hard to argue with him.

Stock up: Ty Montgomery

It's not often that Bill Belichick uses the word "wonderful" to describe one of his players, but that's how he chose to describe his experience with Montgomery thus far.

"Ty’s been a wonderful kid to have around," Belichick said. "He’s a very smart, multi-skilled, multi-talented player. Offensively and in the kicking game, I think he’s shown the ability to be competitive in a lot of different areas. We’ll see how it all plays out, but I’m glad we have him. 

"Great to work with him, and I look forward to working with him throughout the course of the year on the team in multiple roles. I think there’s a lot of different things he can do. We’ll have to figure out how that’s going to play out, and how to combine him with other players on the field, who else that is and so forth. But it’s nice to be able to work with him."

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Montgomery, it's worth noting, was the running back on the field with the starting offense when it was their turn to run a two-minute drill. That's an obvious "sub" situation, of course.

Though Rhamondre Stevenson has performed well as a pass-catching back when given the opportunity -- and Belichick sang Stevenson's praises in that regard Tuesday as well -- it looks like Montgomery could have a real role as a specialty sub back. 

Montgomery had a chance to flash his ability in that regard during that two-minute drill when he was targeted by Jones deep down the sideline on the first snap of the drive. Montgomery made a leaping fingertip grab that sparked the series.

His stock has steadily risen from the moment he showed up in town.

Stock down: Kendrick Bourne

Two down days in a row here for Bourne. His day kicked off with an early miscue that earned him a stern reprimand from Belichick. It appeared as though there was something up with Bourne's uniform, perhaps, since an official saw him take the field for a snap and then quickly sent him back to the sideline. Belichick was... not pleased. 

Later, when Kristian Wilkerson found himself in the middle of a fracas with the Panthers, Bourne squared off with a Carolina player soon thereafter. It appeared as though Bourne might've thrown a punch. Soon thereafter he was kicked out of practice.

Which Patriots receivers stood out in practice vs. Panthers?

It's been a slow camp for Bourne. But by getting removed early, before getting a chance to build some positive momentum, Bourne had his toughest practice of the summer.

Stock down: Yodny Cajuste

Cajuste continues to be available, which is more than Isaiah Wynn can say. Cajuste continues to provide serviceable protection in team periods. But he had a rough time in the one-on-one period Tuesday.

I had him as being on the wrong end of three of his four reps. It looked like two of his losses came to 2020 second-rounder Yetur Gross-Matos while the other came to journeyman vet Austin Larkin.

Stock down: Devin Asiasi

He wasn't the only one to have a ball popped loose in a competitive 7-on-7 period, but Asiasi's might've been the most egregious. He had the pass from Mac Jones secured, and he turned up the field for yardage, but it was soon punched free by the bat-happy Panthers secondary. Matt Sokol dropped a pass in a similar situation, and Jonnu Smith had one come free when Frankie Luvu laid into him with a jarring shoulder thud. 

Asiasi had more opportunities on Tuesday with Hunter Henry missing the practice, but he has yet to capitalize with consistent practice contributions. Sokol at one point saw a first-team rep with Jones and caught a pass up the seam.

 

If there was a third tight end on the roster behind Henry and Smith, based on what we've seen in camp practices, it's not clear which one that would be.