Jalen Mills was easy to spot during the Patriots open OTA session on Thursday as the only defensive back in a single digit number, wearing No. 2, a tribute to a late uncle, along with a noticeable green mouth guard for his "Green Goblin" nickname.
Mills' veteran presence was one of the only new additions to a stacked secondary, as the former Eagle looks to get up to speed as quickly as possible in New England.
"I was brought up with a great group of veterans guys when I was drafted into Philly," said Mills on why he's chosen to participate in the optional workouts. "They always told me, 'you don't win games in April, May, June, but you do lay the foundation.' The foundation is what you always go back on when you get in those games and it's the fourth quarter and it's that last play to win the game. You always go back on the foundation and all the hard work you put in the off-season. So that's always been my mindset to come and compete, also coming into a new team to show Mr. Kraft, Coach Bill 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."
Mills has intriguing versatility that should be a major asset to the Patriots' secondary, which considers itself as a single unit, not as cornerbacks and safeties. In 2020, Mills played all over the place with the Eagles, lining up at box safety for 32.5 percent of the snaps, free safety 23.3 percent, perimeter cornerback 22.4 percent and slot cornerback 18 percent.
Right now, Mills said he's learning the fundamentals of the defense, which will enable him to be another dynamic matchup piece. Being back in person has been a major plus to that process, especially for a player like him.
"I like to learn in person, I like to have walk-throughs, I like to have my coach sometimes sitting there if I mess up to yell at me," said Mills. "I can take coaching, I love to take coaching, so I think with that being said, having those guys right there in person, being able to help you rather than last year where we're looking at the monitor, coaches telling you what the coverage is, what you're supposed to do and then we're going to camp and it's full speed... you got this guy motioning, you got this thing happening, it's totally different. I think right now it's going to be very, very productive."
But the biggest and best difference in 2021 is simply the chance to build team chemistry, as the word "camaraderie" came up in multiple post-practice player interviews on Thursday.
"The energy is crazy right now, I'm super excited," said Mills. "The camaraderie of being around the guys and being in the weight room and being in the meetings and then going out on the practice field and working hard. When it's all said and done, that's what I live for. I think the energy has definitely been very, very high."