Hannable: Patriots cornerbacks deserve just as much praise as offense so far this summer

Ryan Hannable
August 08, 2017 - 11:06 pm

Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO — Over the first two weeks of Patriots training camp the majority of the headlines have been all about the offense and how good the chemistry is between Brandin Cooks and Tom Brady, and then the huge day on Tuesday from Rob Gronkowski.

While this has all been true, the position perhaps deserving more headlines has been the Patriots cornerbacks. 

If the start to the summer is any indication of what is to come, opponents will have a very hard time passing against the Patriots this season. 

Last year the defense allowed a league-low 15.6 points per game, but were 12th in passing defense, allowing 237.9 yards a game. With what took place in the offseason, it should be even better this year.

Logan Ryan departed for Tennessee via free agency, but the team was able to sign former Bills corner Stephon Gilmore, which is essentially upgrading the position as Malcolm Butler stayed put after visiting the Saints as a restricted free agent. With the entire safeties group returning for another season together as well, the pass defense should be much improved.

Butler and Gilmore have a chance to be the best cornerback tandem in the NFL.

“I think so. I think he feels that way and I think I feel that way too,” Butler said after practice on Monday. “I would say we’re most definitely coming along together working as a team, helping the younger guys also.”

Although Jacksonville doesn’t have the greatest offense in the league, the Patriots have made it extremely difficult in the first two days of joint sessions. Each yard the Jaguars offense has gained, it hasn’t been easy.

“I think they do a lot of different stuff with their safeties and do a good job disguising coverages,” quarterback Blake Bortles said after Tuesday’s session. “So, I think schematically, they mess with you a little bit, kind of take away different things. They make you think they’re taking something away and go the other way. So you’ve kind of got to be smart with what you’re doing pre-snap. But they’re all really good players and they’ve done a good job.”

Everyone who has watched the Patriots over the last three years knows how Butler plays, with a lot of tenacity and always fighting until the whistle, not giving an inch no matter who he is going up against. Gilmore was a bit of a question, especially after signing a five-year, $65 million contract this offseason. 

In reality, the former Bills player been very similar to Butler, which has been a pleasant surprise. A big example of this came when he got into a scrap with Julian Edelman last week and both were ejected from practice since Bill Belichick has a no fighting policy. 

“There’s really no friends on the field to me. So when you’re on the field, there’s no friends,” said Gilmore last week. “But off the field, I’m very respectful. I respect everyone on the team. [I] talk to them. It’s nothing personal. When I’m on the field, I’m a competitor and there’s no friends.”

This week with the Jags, Butler and Gilmore's style of play has been in full effect as they have been very physical with the receivers. Even after the play Gilmore and Butler have given little jabs to show they are still there. 

Yes, it’s just the Jaguars, but the dominance from the defense has been noteworthy.

It isn’t even just Gilmore and Butler. There’s still Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones. Rowe is a bigger corner, who can play both inside and out. Cyrus Jones has had a good camp after a tough rookie season and Jonathan Jones has shown the ability to work in the slot as well.

The Patriots have the tools to matchup well against any offense. If it is going against a bigger receiving team, Rowe could play the outside and Butler in the slot. Against a smaller, quicker team, Jonathan or Cyrus Jones can play in the slot with Butler on the outside. New England truly is prepared for anything. 

Over the course of the summer things are typically about the offense, and for good reason, but it’s time the Patriots cornerbacks get some recognition.

They are going to be good. Really good.

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