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Patriots challenge depth cornerbacks to step up this week: ‘They’re here for a reason’

Related: Patriots’ current cornerback shortage comes at the worst possible time

Carolina Panthers v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Matthew Judon joked about it during his Thursday press conference, but the New England Patriots secondary is not yet at a point where he will need to cover Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle on an island. That said, things are certainly far from ideal.

As a look at the team’s injury report on Thursday shows, it is down four defensive backs. Not only was safety Adrian Phillips a new addition with an illness, the team also was without cornerbacks Jalen Mills (groin), Jack Jones (knee) and Marcus Jones (concussion) for a second straight day.

There is a good chance that New England might have to head into its upcoming must-win game against the Dolphins on Sunday without any of them. That would not be as big a problem at the safety spot, but could have disastrous effects at cornerback.

If Mills and the two rookies are out, the Patriots would be down three of their top five options at the position. Given that they will take on a passing game featuring star receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle — who have combined to catch 180 passes for 2,892 yards and 15 touchdowns this season — that is a bad spot to be in.

However, Judon expressed confidence in the next men up.

“We’ve got guys that are going to step up and play in those positions, and they’re going to play well,” he said. “They have to play well.”

The Patriots had five cornerbacks present at practice on Thursday. Starter Jonathan Jones was present, albeit in a limited capacity due to a chest injury, as were Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade. Also practicing was a pair of practice squad options, Quandre Mosley and Tae Hayes.

“Whoever we’ve got, that’s who you’ve got to use,” said Judon. “It would be great if we were at a hundred percent and everybody was out there, but right now we aren’t. You’ve got to play with what you have. I think the guys that are coming out there and practicing, playing, they’re going to do well.”

While Jonathan Jones is an established NFL defensive back — he has played in 107 career games over seven seasons — and Bryant is in his third year in the system as well, the one common denominator for the other cornerbacks on the Patriots roster is a lack of experience.

The next man up, Wade, has played just six games the last two years; he has been on the field for only 18 defensive snaps this season. Hayes is an undrafted rookie without any in-game snaps so far. Hayes only joined the Patriots three days ago.

Nonetheless, Judon is challenging them to step up.

“They’re not filling in. This is an opportunity for them to get to start or get to play a lot,” he said. “It’s not a fill-in. It’s not a ‘just because’. They’re here for a reason. They’ve got a jersey for a reason. They’ve got a helmet for a reason. They were assigned a position. This is just how their life was supposed to play out, and this is their chance. This is their opportunity.

“You see it a lot: guys don’t get an opportunity, they don’t get a chance; and then once they do, they take off. That’s how their career ascends, and that’s how their career starts. So this is their opportunity. It’s not a fill-in role.”