NASHVILLE — You should have seen the scene at Ty Law’s post-induction party a couple of weeks back.
It was a who’s who of great cornerbacks — Law, his University of Michigan buddy Charles Woodson, fellow Aliquippa native Darrelle Revis and Champ Bailey, who was inducted that night as well.
They were congregated near the buffet line at Brookside Country Club, just talking and laughing, all the great No. 24s.
Not far away stood Stephon Gilmore. Quiet, as is his custom, hanging with Devin McCourty and just taking things in.
And it was impossible to avoid making the connection between all those 24s who retired as legends and wonder if legendary status is in store for this No. 24, too. If Gilmore picks up where he left off last season — and the 28-year-old appears to be doing that — it’s not hard to envision.
But somehow the reigning best corner in football still seems a bit overlooked.
Wednesday in Nashville, rep after rep in drills, play after play in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, Gilmore was just doing his thing in the smooth, effortless way he always does. Covering up wideouts so completely that it’s almost a waste for a quarterback to bother trying to squeeze one into Gilmore’s area.
After practice, as media circled players from both teams, Gilmore ambled off the field alone.
I asked him about seeing all those great corners in one place a couple of weeks back.
“Those were a lot of the guys that I looked up to and who played the game at a high level for a long time,” said Gilmore. “Those were some of the best corners to ever play the game. I still watch their old stuff. Try to learn from it as much as I can.
“That was pretty cool to see them all there,” he added. “I’ve worn 24 since I was a little kid, from seeing Ty and Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson. When I got here I wanted to have that number and represent the best that I can.”
I asked him whose style was most similar to his. There was a long hesitation.
“Revis?” I offered.
“I think I may be a little faster than he was,” Gilmore said. “Maybe Champ Bailey. Similar body types.”
Gilmore then returned to pleasant silence, awaiting the next question.
Gilmore gives up very little. With Law, you could ask a question, hit record, leave the room, come back 10 minutes later and he’d still be talking. A lot of great corners were like that. Confident to the point of cocky and that never hurts a player’s brand or Q rating.
Gilmore just plainly doesn’t go in for that stuff. He’s not evasive. He’s not unwilling to converse. He’s just a very reserved person. Maybe that’s part of the reason he’s underappreciated.
I ask about the Patriots defense as a whole, wondering if it can be even better this year than it was in 2018 when it closed the season with a dominant Super Bowl performance.
“We’ll see. We’ll see,” he said. “We have to go out and prove ourselves. Nobody cares about last year, nobody cares about projections. We have to prove ourselves every day.”
I ask about the Titans and the work that went on Wednesday.
“It’s good to go against someone different, a different offense,” he said. “You get used to going against our guys so much that it’s good to come out and go against something different and try to work on technique and rely on that to make plays."
I ask about the feeling of satisfaction he may have felt after last year and whether he reflected on it — being named All-Pro, coming down with a key pick that helped seal the Super Bowl.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to play for this organization,” he said. “Coming from where I came from [Buffalo, where he spent his first four seasons], not much winning, then coming here and trying to earn everyone’s respect and trust. We have a lot of good players on this team that allow me to play my game the way I want to play it. I’m blessed to be in this situation and I’d never take it for granted.”
Flailing. I went to the old standby dumb reporter question, a muddled query about how he feels when opponents make plays on him. (What’s he going to say? That he’s delighted?)
“I hate it,” he said. “Someone caught one on me in 1-on-1s, I was mad. Pissed off. Even in walkthroughs, I still don’t want the ball completed on me. But you have to move on and I believe that’s something I’m good at. Moving on to the next play.”
With that, I shook the hand of the best corner in football and wished him good luck and good health. He smiled and walked away. He gave me nothing. And now I know how Stephon Gilmore makes quarterbacks feel.
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