It wasn't the ending that Jalen Mills was hoping for in his first season with the Patriots, as the veteran cornerback landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after the regular-season finale and was unable to play in the disappointing Wild Card Round loss to the Buffalo Bills.
"Going into the playoffs, that's all you want every year, every team just wants a chance to get in the playoffs but once you get in the playoffs you know anything can happen, that's just the invite to the dance," said Mills on Thursday, speaking to the media for the first time since last season ended. "Me as a competitor definitely wanted to be out there and compete with my guys regardless of the situation, it didn't happen like that."
Now healthy and participating in the team's offseason team activities, Mills feels the same growth and calm that Nelson Agholor mentioned earlier in the week, as the 2021 free agents now have a year under their belt and are excited to build off their first year of experience.
"I think I really just got comfortable within the scheme. Two totally different schemes from the scheme I was playing in before and then last year just getting comfortable within the scheme, getting comfortable with certain guys," said Mills. "Certain guys do different things, certain guys do different checks... knowing pre-snap if I have [Adrian Phillips] next to me he's going to do something different than Dugger or McCourty. Hightower next to me, he was going to make a different check than Kyle Van Noy. I think that was the biggest thing with me, just getting comfortable within the scheme."
In 2022 there will be some changes to the Patriots' secondary after the free agency departure of J.C. Jackson, and the arrivals of veteran cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell, as well as rookie draft picks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones.
After an offseason that included swimming with sharks, Mills said he's looking forward to checking in on the rookies this weekend when they report for rookie minicamp and seeing how the defensive back room comes together this season.
"Competition brings the best out of everybody," said Mills. "Bill's going to demand that the competition level be high. I think that's just gonna make everybody better in that room."