The Patriots defense ended Monday's evening practice with a flourish, with rookie Jack Jones picking off a Bailey Zappe pass to put a final exclamation point on another strong effort by the secondary. Despite needing to replace a starter this season, the position group has flashed early and often this summer.
"Every moment out there feels special, to be honest," said the rookie Jones after practice, downplaying his interception before crediting his college coaching for preparing him to make the mental leap to the NFL. "Luckily I played in a system where I had a coach who coached in the NFL and had a lot of NFL experience, so they taught me a lot of stuff before I got up here that kept me ahead of the curve."
Led by returning starter Jalen Mills, who has made his fair share of pass breakups and interceptions during team portions, including another interception on Monday, the position group has several options to consider, with both veterans and younger unproven players getting plenty of work.
While veterans Terrance Mitchell and Malcolm Butler have gotten a bulk of reps, the return of Jonathan Jones off of PUP has added a new dimension. With young vets like Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade pushing the pace, along with rising rookie Marcus Jones, who saw his most extensive top line action yet on Monday, the group features a little of everything as far as experience.
Through 10 practices the consistent plays on the ball are showing up on the field and have been infectious.
"It just brings energy overall to the defense from the back to the front," said Shaun Wade. "That's what we're supposed to do, be consistent, and that's what we're striving for every day."
"It's been awesome, the whole group, I can't stress enough, has been amazing," said cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino last week. "This has been one of my favorite years coaching because every day everyone is 100 percent bought in. Everyone is competing with one another and it's fantastic."
Getting the most out of the position group is a huge undertaking. The schedule features eight of the top-10 2021 receiving leaders, including two games apiece against the Dolphins' Tyreek Hill (3rd – 111 catches) and Jaylen Waddle (8th – 103 catches), and the Bills' Stefon Diggs (9th – 102 catches).
With so many explosive threats on the docket, the Patriots cornerback group knows the challenge that lies ahead.
"That's what every defense wants, 11 guys flying around to the ball," said Jack Jones. "As long as the defense is playing full speed, I think we're in good hands."