The New England Patriots surprised many when they made one of the biggest signings of the 2017 free agency period and handed a five-year, $65 million contract to cornerback Stephon Gilmore. A one-time Pro Bowler, Gilmore had been solid during his five seasons with the Buffalo Bills but never quite lived up to the natural expectations that come with being the 10th overall draft pick. He was good, but he was no true shutdown corner.
Three years after arriving in New England, the outlook has changed quite a bit: Gilmore enters the 2020 season as the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, was voted to back-to-back Pro Bowls and played a key role in helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl to cap their 2018 season. Along the way, he earned a spot on the franchise’s Team of the Decade and also established himself as the premier cornerback in all of football.
So, what happened? According to the man himself, the change of scenery in combination with organizational stability allowed him to live up to his potential and elevate his game to a new level upon his arrival in New England. Gilmore spoke about just that during a recent appearance on the Double Coverage podcast, run by fellow Patriots defensive backs Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty.
“In Buffalo, I don’t think I ever beat New England when I was there,” Gilmore said. “I’m like, ‘What is it those guys are doing that’s different?’ On the other end, I’m going against [Julian] Edelman, I’m going against [Brandon] LaFell, I’m going against Tom [Brady], it’s different from seeing it on the other side. I think, me in Buffalo, the first five years, I had four different defensive coordinators, three different head coaches.”
“I was kind of trying to learn each and every year. Once I got to New England, I got some consistency — the same guys around, same coaches. I feel like that’s when my game took off more,” he continued while getting an approving nod from Jason McCourty, who himself started his career in Tennessee and Cleveland before joining the Patriots via trade in 2018. “It’s tough to get comfortable. You have to appreciate those things being in New England.”
The Patriots may have provided the framework for Gilmore to maximize his talents and rise to the top of league-wide cornerback rankings, but he himself put in the necessary work to take advantage of the situation. This offseason is no different, as the 29-year-old is following his established patterns in order to stay in the best possible condition and be ready whenever the Coronavirus pandemic allows the league to return to a normal state.
“To me it’s just working on my craft: Make sure I’m back-padelling; make sure I’m breaking; make sure I’m working on my press-technique, something that I feel is the top part of my game,” Gilmore said about his offseason focus and preparation. “You have to find the player you are, and try to do what you do best the best you can. I just think you have to perfect your craft, you can’t let those things slack off.”