Jalen Mills settling into major new role on Patriots defense
August 4th, 2022
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) walks to the practice field at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
It’ll be a while before we find out how the Patriots’ secondary holds up against high-end receiver groups. But there’s no question about who will be their No. 1 cornerback.
Jalen Mills is settling in nicely to a streamlined new role for him on the Patriots’ defense. Heading into year 2, he’s locked in as the top corner on the outside. After a year of moving him around and trying him a lot inside, Bill Belichick and his defensive staff have parked him on the perimeter.
So far, the results have been good. The Patriots may lack a Ja’Marr Chase-level game-changer at wide receiver, but it’s their deepest group in at least four years. Mills has been competitive in his 11-on-11 reps on the outside, including a few pass breakups.
Mills may not live up to the legacy of Ty Law, Stephon Gilmore, or Darrelle Revis. But he’s embracing the challenge of being the top guy deployed against the other team’s top receivers.
“That’s the standard here,” Mills told reporters Thursday. “Corners here from the past decade, guys being able to line up play man-to-man, play zone, whatever it may be, you’ve got to be able to step up to the challenge.”
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Many of Mills’ reps, in both 1-on-1 and full team drills, have come against newcomer DeVante Parker, who overall has looked like Mac Jones’ new favorite target on the outside. Parker has cooled off a bit after a hot start to camp, but has given Mills a lot to battle with his size, agility, and body control.
Mills credited both Parker for preparing him for those key matchups against dynamic outside receivers.
“He’s a savvy guy,” Mills said of Parker. For him to be that tall, he can run. Obviously we know he can jump up and catch the ball. … He’s a guy who can run those short-to-intermediate routes, and we know at any point in time that he can take the top off. Definitely, going against him has been a challenge.
“Any time he breaks the huddle and he comes to my side, I think the ball’s coming. So, that keeps me on edge, and that’s what I like.”
Mills also credited speedy rookie Tyquan Thornton for giving him a good challenge with his wheels, but also with his smooth route-running and length. Thornton made one of the best catches of camp in a 1-on-1 drill against Mills, who was close in coverage but couldn’t quite stop Thornton from securing an over-the-shoulder grab on a pretty rainbow from Jones.
Mills is being counted upon, as a member of the Patriots’ expensive 2021 free-agent class, to make a big jump in his second season compared to his first. Even if he’s still a slight downgrade from J.C. Jackson as the new No. 1 outside corner, that would be a major step forward, and could ease lingering concerns about a secondary that could surprise some people this season.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills (2) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
After five years with the Eagles and a total reset of his defensive system, Mills is feeling more comfortable now that he’s spending less time learning and more time playing.
“Being somewhere for so long, last year being my first year, total new defense with different guys that I wasn’t used to, and now having a full OTAs with those guys again and then going into my second camp, it’s night and day,” Mills said.
The early returns certainly look promising.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.