The second day of mandatory minicamp was a good one for the New England Patriots defense. The unit consistently put (simulated) pressure on the team’s quarterbacks and also registered three total interceptions during team drills.
While Jalen Mills was not among those coming away with picks — as opposed to safety Kyle Dugger and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy — he did have as active a day as any defender on the field. He played some tight man-to-man coverage, broke up a Mac Jones throw intended for N’Keal Harry and almost intercepted Cam Newton twice.
Along the way he continued to serve as a starter in New England’s secondary in place of minicamp holdout Stephon Gilmore. Needless to say, Mills is progressing nicely in his first offseason as a Patriot.
Fellow defensive back Devin McCourty sees Mills’ development the same way, praising his ability to play multiple positions during a media conference call on Tuesday.
“He’s showing a lot of versatility so far,” McCourty said about his new teammate. “He’s super competitive. He’s talking, he’s having fun. I think he’s been a great addition for us just because of his ability to do different things — whether it’s playing safety, covering tight ends, covering in the slot, playing outside corner, deep safety, strong safety. I just think that versatility ... allows the coaching staff to do so many different things.”
Versatility is nothing new for Mills, who proved himself one of the most flexible defensive backs during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Playing every spot in the Eagles’ secondary last season, he regularly moved between assignments depending on the defensive call, and ended up playing at least 180 snaps at all four primary positions. The Patriots, who acquired him via a four-year, $23.9 million contract in free agency, seem open to using him in a similar fashion this year.
For that to happen, however, Mills will have to quickly adapt to New England’s defense and playing alongside McCourty and company. The long-time starting safety, meanwhile, acknowledged that he and the other experienced defensive backs will have to help the offseason acquisition get up to speed.
“For us as guys that have been here it’s just continuing to help him with different things,” McCourty said. “One of the biggest things that you have when you change teams is just terminology. He knows football, he understands a lot; it’s just getting him on the same page. It’s the terms we use, how we view things. And that’s been going well so far in the meetings and everything. We just have to continue to work.”
Mills himself brought the same mindset to the table, as he pointed out during organized team activities.
“You always go back on the foundation and all the hard work you put in the off-season,” he said last month. “That’s always been my mindset to come and compete, also coming into a new team to show Mr. [Robert] Kraft, Coach Bill [Belichick] and the coaching staff, and also the players here, that I’m all in with this team and this organization. I came to work hard.”
The early returns have been promising so far. And while it remains to be seen how Mills will be used once Gilmore returns to the lineup, seeing him play a prominent role in 2021 would not be a surprise whatsoever.