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Bill Belichick talks about whether or not Johnson Bademosi will remain in the starting lineup

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Belichick was pretty clear about who gets to play.

NFL: New England Patriots at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have to be pleasantly surprised with how cornerback Johnson Bademosi has played over the past two weeks as a starter. The defense looks better than ever and Bademosi’s contributions lead to an easy follow-up question: will Bademosi stay in the starting line-up after Stephon Gilmore returns from his injury?

Head coach Bill Belichick answered that question at Tuesday’s press conference.

“The guys that play the best play the most,” Belichick shrugged. “The guys that don’t play as well continue to keep working until their performance either moves ahead of somebody else’s or they get an opportunity because of circumstances. I mean, it’s pretty fundamental the way it works. When the players get that opportunity, then it’s up to them to perform in that situation that they’re called to play on. Depending on how the performance goes, then that will probably either lead to less or more playing time eventually once it declares itself. So, that’s up to each individual player.”

Which Patriots cornerbacks have played the best? Well, Malcolm Butler has emerged over the past couple weeks and he’s been the best cornerback on the team. After that, it’s a toss-up between Gilmore and his potential upside and Bademosi and his consistency.

There’s no question that Gilmore was a huge part of the Patriots defensive struggles over the first four weeks of the season, but he also played a big role in defending Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans in week 5. I think he’ll get his job back when he’s healthy, with Bademosi taking over the role of #3 cornerback, ahead of Jonathan Jones and Eric Rowe. That decision, of course, comes down to the coaches.

“Not every player can control the opportunities that he gets,” Belichick added. “Sometimes, I mean, those are coaches’ decisions, and sometimes those opportunities become available through the unavailability of other players. So, in other words, a guy doesn’t necessarily go out there and beat somebody out in training camp competition, but because of circumstances, an opportunity arises and then the player does whatever he does with the opportunity. That’s up to each individual player.

“That’s why each player needs to always be prepared, always be ready, so that when that opportunity comes, he’s able to take advantage of it and not miss the opportunity and then that will hurt his chances the next time, but also he loses the chance to improve his value to the team.”

Bademosi had an opportunity because both Gilmore and Rowe suffered injuries, but he had done enough in practice to leapfrog Jonathan Jones on the depth chart to play across from Butler. Bademosi has taken advantage of his time on the field and has certainly improved his value to the team and the coaching staff will look favorably upon his time over the past two weeks.

But will it be enough? Bademosi plays better in zone than in man, while Gilmore is better in man. Since Butler can play both, the coaches will have to decide which coverage scheme to lean upon to determine the starting cornerback.

No matter the decision, Bademosi is on track to become a bigger contributor than the team anticipated when they acquired him.

“All players want to be valuable to the team, all players want to contribute, all players want to play, all players want to increase their role, but it’s a very competitive situation,” Belichick said. “This league’s very competitive, and we know we’re all judged on our performance and our production, so when those opportunities come, you’ve got to take advantage of them.”

This logic also expands to other positions, too. It’s why Dion Lewis is now the lead running back ahead of Mike Gillislee; Lewis made the most of his time on the field. It’s why Danny Amendola is playing more than Dwayne Allen; Amendola has taken advantage of his targets.

The best players will play, Belichick said, and that’s what will determine the playing time decisions.