Patriots

Gilmore's situation with Patriots 'getting better all the time'

patriots_broncos_stephon_gilmore_111117.jpg

Gilmore's situation with Patriots 'getting better all the time'

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.”

MORE PATRIOTS

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.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

ap_17337030766191.jpg
AP Photo

Georgia the new Rutgers? Contingent of Bulldogs growing in New England

FOXBORO -- David Andrews was excited. He just had a hard time showing it.

The Patriots center stayed up long enough to see his team pick at No. 23 in the first round of the NFL Draft, long enough to see his Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn have his name called.

But the Thursday night prime time event isn't for everyone, and so Andrews wasn't fully conscious by the time the Patriots picked a second Bulldog, Sony Michel, at No. 31.

"I was in bed. My wife stayed up and watched it," Andrews said last week. "I was in bed and I saw Isaiah get drafted, and then I passed out. She came busting in th'.;e room about Sony getting drafted, and at that point, I really didn’t care. I was just trying to get to sleep, but . . . No, I was very happy for them. It was awesome to talk to them. They were here the next day. I didn’t really get to see them, but it’s good to see them around, see some familiar faces"

Suddenly, with five Georgia players on the roster -- Andrews, Wynn, Michel, Malcolm Mitchell and undrafted free agent John Atkins -- they now make up one of the largest contingents of players from one school in Bill Belichick's locker room.

MORE PATRIOTS:


Iowa is right there with Georgia at five players (Aidrian Clayborn, Cole Croston, James Ferentz, Riley McCarron, Matt Tobin). Vanderbilt is next on the list with four (Adam Butler, Andrew Jelks, Jordan Matthews, Ralph Webb), even with Rutgers (Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, Kenny Britt). Arkansas follows closely behind with three (Trey Flowers, Dietrich Wise, Cody Hollister).

If you look at the coaches involved in helping certain groups of players develop, the Patriots connections become even a little more clear.

At Iowa, it's Kirk Ferentz, who served as a Belichick assistant in Cleveland back in the 90s. At Vanderbilt, Belichick thinks highly enough of Derek Mason that he gave Mason and the Vandy coaching staff a behind-the-scenes look at spring workouts in New England last year. At Rutgers, Belichick's relationship with former Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano has been well-documented.

Then there are the coaches who've bounced around a bit and impacted multiple players on the Patriots roster at different spots.

Bret Bielema, who's been helping the Patriots this offseason (and was spotted with Belichick at The Preakness this weekend), coached all three Arkansas products as well as James White during his time at Wisconsin. Bo Pellini has coached three Patriots (Vincent Valentine and Rex Burkhead at Nebraska, Derek Rivers at Youngstown State).

Then there's that Georgia connection. Kirby Smart coached all three Bulldog rookies as well as the two Alabama products on the Patriots roster (Dont'a Hightower, Cyrus Jones) when Smart was coaching defense for the Crimson Tide. Former Georgia coach and current Miami sideline boss Mark Richt recruited all five Georgia players currently on the Patriots roster, and he coached both Miami rookies now in New England (Braxton Berrios, Trent Harris).

Asked why Belichick and the Patriots front office would be so interested in acquiring so many players from the same school, Andrews replied, "That’s a psychology question. Man, I don’t know . . .  

"You know, no, I don’t think there’s really like one thing. I think those are some great guys. They all work really hard. They’ve been great teammates to me, so that’s something you can always respect, and it’s guys like that you love having in your locker room and playing with.

MORE PATRIOTS:


No matter how you look at it, the Georgia connection in New England is as strong as ever.

"Georgia the new Rutgers? Oh, I’m going to have to talk to Dev and Du about that and all those guys," Andrews said with a smile. "We might be now. We’ll have to see."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel signing with Hamilton of the CFL

Johnny Manziel won't be in the Patriots' plans at quarterback anytime soon.

The former Browns QB, Heisman winner in 2012 and first-round pick in 2014 announced on Saturday morning that he had decided to sign a contract to play in the CFL in order to "further my football career after a long break."

"I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I'm eager for what the future holds," Manziel tweeted. 

Manziel also announced that he'll be co-hosting the "Comeback Szn" podcast for Barstool Sports alongside his agent Erik Burkhardt and our buddy, former "Boston Sports Tonight" and "Football Fix" co-host, Kayce Smith.

"It's just a really good fit," Burkhardt said on "Comeback Szn." "Good offense. It's a really good league. It's been around forever, we vetted it well, and at the end of the day, like Johnny said, he wants to play ball."

Manziel, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems, has battled bipolar disorder. He will play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats under head coach June Jones, who has also coached in the NCAA and NFL ranks. Jones served as offensive coordinator of the Falcons (1991-93) before becoming their head coach (1994-96). He was also quarterbacks coach and interim head coach for the Chargers in 1998 before heading to the college ranks. Jones coached at Hawaii then at SMU, where he was the first person to offer Manziel a college scholarship. 

CFL rookie contracts are for two years, meaning the Tiger-Cats will have his rights through the end of the 2019 CFL season. 

Earlier this year, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie reiterated the league's stance that they're not in the business of letting players break their contracts to pursue NFL opportunities.

The Patriots took a look at him this spring, but even if they had interest, the possibility of which we discussed on Quick Slants the Podcast last month, any marriage will have to wait. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE