Patriots

Stephon Gilmore has corrected his course with Patriots

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Stephon Gilmore has corrected his course with Patriots

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty could barely wait for the question to finish before he started answering.

He knew what he wanted to say because he had lived it himself. At the root of the discussion was cornerback Stephon Gilmore and his improved play. The query was whether Gilmore’s early season struggles and adversity had actually proven to be a positive in the long run -- allowing the player to reveal his true character to a new locker room.

“I kind of look at everything similar to when I played corner here,” recalled McCourty in an almost empty Patriots locker room. “When you play corner, you already feel like you’re on an island by yourself and then when it doesn’t go well, you’re like, ‘[shoot], I am by myself out here.’ It gives you a very resilient attitude. I’m just going make my plays.”

MORE ON GILMORE

Gilmore has made his share over the last few weeks, looking very much like a player worth the resources the team invested in him. Sunday, he drew Miami’s DeVante Parker and made him disappear faster than the turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving Day. Parker caught just one ball for five yards. The big receiver was also Matt Moore’s red-zone target just prior to halftime; Gilmore intercepted the underthrown pass like he knew it was coming. That’s because he did.

“They ran that route on us earlier in the first quarter and I knew they were going to come back to it,” said Gilmore. “Every time DeVante Parker is in the slot, he runs the seam empty so I just beat him to the spot.”

“It was a huge play. No question, a big momentum play,” said Bill Belichick.

McCourty had a front-row seat for the interception and watched Gilmore nearly snag a second before being “a team player” and letting Duron Harmon live up to his "closer" reputation and get the pick himself. The veteran safety smiled in approval at the memory and what he’s seen from the 27-year old corner since his tumultuous start to the season.

“He’s really played well for us the last couple of weeks, going out there and shutting down people has been big for us,” said McCourty. “I’ve been telling him this since he got here: 'You’re a good player and you’re going to keep playing good for us. Don’t worry about about what’s going on, what people are saying.' I think his confidence hasn’t swayed and I think that’s been a big plus for him to just go out and keep playing.”

Gilmore insisted over the first month of the season that his mistakes were not physical and that gave him reason to believe he’d eventually turn the corner. He owned up to those mistakes even if that confidence seemed a bit odd to the untrained eye. He agrees that there was a silver lining in those woes, that his teammates got a crash course in who he was and what he was all about, although to hear Gilmore talk, it makes it seem like it’s nothing new for anyone worth a damn playing cornerback. 

“Yeah, that comes with the position,” said Gilmore. “Anytime you’re playing corner, playing man-to-man, that one mistake you make everybody’s going to see it. I’m able to take that. I know how to take it and get better and better every game. I come out on top eventually.”

That’s not misguided. Gilmore is on the right track and now nods approvingly when asked if he’s playing some of the best football of his career. 

“Yeah,” he said, “I think I am.”

The adjustment period is over. Gilmore has stood up to Mike Evans in Tampa, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Michael Crabtree in Mexico City and now Miami’s Parker in front of the Gillette Stadium crowd. Those challenges would range from strong to quite strong and Gilmore has handled each and every one. But it doesn’t get easier here in the stretch run. In fact, now Gilmore must go back to where he spent the previous five years of his career and face an angry Buffalo fanbase that didn’t take to kindly to him leaving and his references to finally getting a chance to play in prime time and play for a winner. 

“I’m here now. I love playing with the guys. I have respect for what the Bills are doing; they have so many talented players on their team,” he said.

Pressed on what he thinks the atmosphere will be like, Gilmore only acknowledged that it will be “loud” but didn’t want to go any deeper than that, at least not yet.

That Buffalo fanbase is boisterous and a little bit wild. The parking lot pre- and postgame is not for the timid. Hell, the stadium can be nearly as bad. While Gilmore wasn’t willing to go there, McCourty would when I asked him about culture shock being a piece of what Gilmore went through during his first summer and handful of regular season games.

“If they lose and lose by a lot no one really cares,” said McCourty of Buffalo’s fans. “Here everyone expects you to win every time you’re going on the field. When you’re the new guy and it’s not going right, people want to point fingers. In any adversity, you realize these are your guys in the locker room and we never turned on him. Guys had his back. I think he felt that and knew that. A 16-game season is not going to go well all the time. You keep pushing, keep working, keep playing and eventually it will turn for you.”

Gilmore has made that turn. Now down the stretch they come. 

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Brady and Guerrero enjoy time in Monaco

Brady and Guerrero enjoy time in Monaco

There has been plenty of discussion surrounding the New England Patriots this offseason.

Is there tension between Brady and Belichick? Are the Patriots finally starting to crack?

There is no confirmed proof of either, but Brady missing OTAs has only fueled speculation

Some may have figured he just wanted to spend more time with family. But we've found out he's had a full list of things to do outside football.

Many wouldn't have guessed this list included throwing footballs yacht-to-yacht with a competitor in the Monaco Grand Prix.

The man who caught the football was Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing. He would go on to win the Monaco Grand Prix.

Everything that Brady touches turns to gold.

Brady serves as a brand ambassador for TAG Heuer. Red Bull Racing started using TAG Heuer branded Renault engines a few years back.

This part of the trip is certainly important for the Tom Brady brand.

And one of the most important people that was by his side the entire way. 

TB12 guru Alex Guerrero was on the trip also.

With that being the case, I'm sure Brady hasn't missed a day of training on his overseas trip.

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Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

Hightower’s presence at OTAs leads to a look at linebacker depth

FOXBORO - Dont'a Hightower was among the missing during Tuesday's OTA that was open to reporters. He was prominently featured on the team's website as a participant in Thursday's OTA, though.

It's a positive development for one of the Patriots best and most versatile defenders. Hightower tore his pectoral in October and missed the remainder of the 2017 season, leading to some shuffling of personnel both at the second level and on the edge. 

Hightower snagged one of the team's photos of his participation in Thursday's workout and slapped it on his Instagram page. 

Hightower's presence on the turf behind Gillette Stadium, even if he was limited in the practice, allows our minds to wander a bit and look ahead to what the Patriots depth chart might look like at linebacker with him in the fold. 

The Patriots are consistently altering their fronts and Hightower's adaptability allows his role to change with whatever scheme Bill Belichick deploys. 

Hightower can play on the line or off. He can be used as a "Sam" linebacker at the second level in a 4-3 or at the end of the line of scrimmage in 3-4 looks. He played on the left end early last season - a spot we identified yesterday as a potential landing spot for Derek Rivers. And if the Patriots needed Hightower to play as a "Mike" linebacker, he has the ability to do that as well. 

Sub packages, base packages . . . Hightower can line up in a variety of front-seven spots for the Patriots regardless of the situation, which is why when healthy he's been able to serve as an every-down player. (He played 92.4 percent of Patriots defensive snaps in 2014 and 83.1 percent of the snaps in 2016.)

How might the rest of the Patriots linebacker corps slot in if Hightower is a full go for training camp? Let's take a look . . . 

MR. MIX AND MATCH


Kyle Van Noy is probably the closest approximation to Hightower that the Patriots have on their roster. When Hightower went out last season, it was Van Noy who moved around the front seven and handled a variety of responsibilities. He's probably best suited as a "Will" linebacker, someone who can use his athleticism to make plays in different areas depending on the situation, but Van Noy's ability to handle multiple responsibilities in New England's defense is part of the reason why the team likes him as much as they do. He was handed a two-year extension early last season. 

LIKE "MIKE" 


Elandon Roberts often handled the "Mike" responsibilities in the Patriots defense last season. The third-year player out of Houston might have the inside track on this role in 2018, but he could be pushed by rookie fifth-round selection Ja'Whaun Bentley out of Purdue. Both players seem like they're at their best against the run game, unafraid to fill their lanes as prideful "thumpers." What may separate this duo is which player can more consistently cover the correct gaps on first and second down, and which player more effectively communicates the defense to their teammates around them. Whether either player can contribute on special teams could also alter how the workload is distributed here. 

WHEN THERE'S A "WILL"


Van Noy would likely be the first choice here for the Patriots, but there are a few others who could be angling for time here. Marquis Flowers re-signed with the Patriots this offseason after an impressive end-of-the-season run where he showed up as a pass-rusher with enough athleticism to be trusted to run with backs in the passing game. Flowers was also a key contributor on special teams last season. Rookie sixth-round pick Christian Sam could also compete for "Will" reps. A defensive back in high school, Sam bulked up at Arizona State but remains a good athlete and could be a fit behind Van Noy. Special teamers Nicholas Grigsby and Brandon King work out with the linebackers and could be options here if they were ever called upon defensively.

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