The New England Patriots are rarely among the NFL’s big spenders in free agency, so when they do make a big signing it certainly catches the eye. Such was the case in March 2017, when the team brought cornerback Stephon Gilmore in on a massive five-year, $65 million contract. Needless to say that the big-dollar investment was a good one on the team’s part: Gilmore has been outstanding over the last two years.
During the 2017 playoffs, he already was arguably the NFL’s best cornerback. He built on this success last year and was able to make the famed second-year jump: Gilmore developed into an All-Pro defensive back, ranked first on Pro Football Focus’ list of cornerbacks, and most importantly helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl — one during which he registered the game-clinching interception.
Now entering his third year in the system, Gilmore appears poised to keep up his tremendous level of play. So far in training camp, he looks the part: quarterbacks have targeted him just five times during team drills over the first six practices, with all five passes falling incomplete. Despite his excellent performance leading to him having a comparatively quiet camp, the 28-year-old knows that he cannot get complacent.
“I just try to focus on myself. Even when the ball’s not thrown my way, I just try to make sure I’m in the best position to cover the guy in front of me. That’s pretty much what I focus on,” Gilmore told reporters after Wednesday’s practice session. “I’m just trying to get better every day, just going against different guys, going against a great quarterback. So, I’m just trying to work on my technique and try to make plays each and every play.”
So far during his tenure in New England, Gilmore has done just that on a consistent basis. The foundation for that was and is of course built during practice — to quote Patriots football research director Ernie Adams, “there is no such thing as being a game-day player” — and the former Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick acknowledged today that one player in particular has helped him in this regard: quarterback Tom Brady.
“[Practicing against him] has helped me out a lot, just seeing his work ethic coming out here each and every day, making everybody better,” Gilmore said about the six-time world champion. “I mean, he throws a great ball, so if you’re in the position to make a play on his ball, you can pretty much make a play on anybody’s ball. You know, we’re just trying to compete and get better each and every day just like everybody else.”
In order to get better, Gilmore has also worked with Brady and the team’s other quarterbacks (and wide receivers) after practice. The goal, according to the man himself, is simply to improve when it comes to being able to track the football in the air and subsequently make plays on it: “Those guys throw pretty balls, so just trying to track the ball in the air as much as I can so I can come down with the ball.”
During his 2018 All-Pro and Super Bowl-winning season, Gilmore came down with the football a team-high four times. Don’t be surprised, however, if that number does not increase this season despite the extra practice time: quarterbacks tend to keep the ball away as far as possible from the NFL’s best cornerbacks. And Gilmore might just be the best of them all — a status that the league’s best quarterback also helped build.