The arrow keeps pointing up for the Patriots’ new top cornerback
August 16th, 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
The Patriots’ cornerback group has looked better than advertised throughout training camp, and now one joint practice with the Carolina Panthers. And Jalen Mills has been at the forefront of it all.
Mills turned heads routinely against his own teammates, but the big question for all the defensive regulars was how they’d look against another opponent. For one day, anyway, Mills validated the hype that’s come with him in the Patriots’ top outside cornerback spot.
Facing another team’s receiver group for the first time this summer, Mills broke up three pass attempts without allowing a catch in 11-on-11 drills during Monday’s joint practice with Carolina. His best highlight came near the end of a two-minute simulation, when he got a hand on a ball at the goal line intended for D.J. Moore, who led the Panthers with 93 catches last season.
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Mills also allowed just one catch on four reps in competitive 1-on-1 drills against the Panthers’ receiver corps, with two pass breakups in that period. He won both of his matchups against Robbie Anderson and broke up a pass intended for Ra’Shaun Henry. The lone catch against Mills was on a shallow crosser to Rashard Higgins.
But the blemishes have been few and far between for Mills, who is entrenched as a starting outside cornerback and continuing to impress in the role. One might even describe him as the … No. 1 corner?
Not Bill Belichick, apparently. The Patriots head coach has taken a hard stance against titles and labels this off-season, and that’s extended to the players. When asked if he feels like he needs a No. 1 cornerback, Belichick dismissed the idea that he needs to look at any player as the top option in a given group.
“I mean, defensively you have who you have, and you play with who you play with. Number them however you want, doesn’t make a difference to me,” Belichick said. “You have to put 11 guys out there, and they have to play well together, whoever those 11 guys are. I don’t know, number one, number two, number one tackle, number two corner, I’m not sure. I’m confused about that.”
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
It’s true: us media folk probably care more about the literal label of No. 1 this and that than the players and coaches themselves. What really matters not what it’s called, but how it looks. And so far, Mills appears on the verge of a major step forward from his first season in a Patriots uniform.
The Patriots have some talented quarterbacks and receivers on their schedule in 2022. Moore and Anderson are certainly no slouches, but the Panthers’ Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield were both all over the place with their accuracy and decision-making. What’s the New England secondary going to look like when it has to face higher-end competition?
We’ll have to wait and find out. And with Malcolm Butler and Joejuan Williams both headed to injured reserve, their depth will continue to be tested. But as it stands, Mills’ performance has alleviated a lot of concerns at corner.
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 email@example.com.