Malcolm Butler ably handled that role throughout the season before being strangely benched in the Super Bowl, but he's gone to Tennessee as a free agent, leaving a vacancy on the other side.
Bill Belichick swung a trade with Cleveland for veteran Jason McCourty, who joins his twin brother Devin in the secondary. He's a candidate to fill the role opposite Gilmore, as is veteran Eric Rowe, who has served as a part-time starter over the past two seasons.
In addition, Belichick used a variety of youngsters during spring camps including rookies Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson and JC Jackson, as well as first-year players Ryan Lewis and Jomal Wiltz. All got plenty of reps in groups that included Gilmore and other starters.
So this week's Samsonite Make Your Case question is: Who will start at corner opposite Stephon Gilmore?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Rowe has the experience to fill the role, and Bill Belichick already has inserted him into the lineup at key junctures in the past. He has the size to compete on the outside and has been quite competitive going against the likes of Julio Jones in big spots in the past.
While he might not be the best matchup against smaller, quicker receivers, Rowe can handle the job on the outside against the bigger more physical targets. He's consistently shown the ability to play physically with tight coverage, both inside and outside.
The only question mark with Rowe is health, as he's dealt with some injuries during his time in New England. But in terms of candidates to start alongside Gilmore, Rowe has to be the choice.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
This may wind up being more of an argument of semantics because I believe both Rowe and McCourty will be “starters” as the Patriots generally have three corners on the field together. But if forced to pick I'll go with McCourty.
For starters, he's been durable throughout his career and his learning curve with the system won't likely be as long as with other newcomers due to his familiarity through his brother. He also has the most experience of any of the candidates having started 104 of his 122 career games during his time in Tennessee and Cleveland.
The only concern I have is his lack of action during the spring. I'm not sure if he is nursing an injury but he didn't get any reps at OTAs or mini-camp while several young players rotated in. But in terms of experience and track record, McCourty should get the nod as the starter with Gilmore.