After an offseason loaded with free agent moves, Jalen Mills' signing of a four-year, $24 million deal was one of the more underrated additions. With Stephon Gilmore ending up on the PUP list and expected to miss at least the first six weeks of the season, it puts a spotlight on the veteran cornerback, who should play a vital role in the secondary this season.
"I feel like I was brought here to play some good football," said Mills on Thursday afternoon. "I want to go out here and stop looking at the [Patriots] offense every single day... get this thing rolling and see what our team has.
"I know we're going to go out there, work hard at practice and go out and in the games, play hard and play fast."
It's easy to see why Mills intrigued the Patriots. Last season, he played almost every snap before missing the season finale, lining up all over the defense, including box safety (32.5%), free safety (23.3%), perimeter cornerback (22.4%) and slot cornerback (18%). That kind of versatility is valued in New England, but in Gilmore's absence Mills could find himself playing less of a swiss army knife role and more of a traditional outside cornerback role.
"Wherever I'm needed, wherever they need to plug me in, I'm comfortable doing it all," said Mills. "Coach does a great job, whether it's a couple of plays in practice, they'll put me outside, a couple of plays in practice they'll put me inside, just so I'm always fresh on whatever spot I have to play in. So I mean, wherever they want to plug me, I'm comfortable."
With limited outside cornerback depth, Mills will be a key figure in the Patriots' secondary, especially early in the season when he could find himself lined up in man coverage against a variety of explosive threats. How well he holds up across from J.C. Jackson will be a big factor in how well the Pats are able to match up.
"Mills is a pretty good player," said Jackson during his availability on Thursday. "Not only that he's a great teammate. I mean, he's smart. He's picked up our defense pretty fast. He brings good energy to the secondary and we're happy to have him."
After a day off on Wednesday and the next three days projected off, the Patriots took the field on Thursday in full pads with their full roster, including practice squad members and a few new additions. Matt LaCosse and Brandon Bolden donned red no-contact jerseys, but otherwise, the team looked ready to get an important practice session in before it's full speed ahead on the Dolphins starting Monday.
Quotes of Note
J.C. Jackson on Mac Jones:
"Mac Jones, he's going to be that guy. I mean, he's a rookie, but he plays like a vet. The way he read defenses, the way he stepped up in the pocket, delivered the ball. He's's improved since the first time I saw him."
Kendrick Bourne on Mac Jones:
"Just what I've seen throughout camp and these last few days – he's locked in. He's poised. He seems ready for the moment. I'm excited to be a part of it."
Quinn Nordin on preseason:
"I think preseason was awesome, the amount of reps I was able to get. I mean, I didn't know if I was going to get any reps. It was a really good experience, even getting kickoffs. I'm just going to take what I learned from that experience and take it into the first game."