FOXBORO, Mass. — Barring something completely shocking and unforeseen, the top two spots on the New England Patriots’ cornerback depth chart are set in stone.
Malcolm Butler is regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL as he comes off a second-team All-Pro selection, and Stephon Gilmore signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots this offseason. This is bad news for Eric Rowe, who looked primed to take over a starting role after a successful first season with the Patriots in 2016.
Rowe said he was surprised when the Patriots signed Gilmore.
“I was on vacation, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ That threw me off, but it’s just like another challenge in a way,” Rowe said Friday. “He got here, he’s a great teammate, he’s a real cool guy. Now he’s just someone to work with now. How it affects me? Yeah, it kind of puts me down depth chart wise, but my mindset is to just come out here and keep making plays. Really, that’s just how I have fun.”
Rowe certainly has been making plays two days into training camp. He has two interceptions and four pass breakups through two practices and appears to be the favorite to earn the Patriots’ No. 3 cornerback role.
There is an obstacle, however. Rowe, at 6-foot-1, doesn’t look like a prototypical slot cornerback, and he has little experience in the role. But he does have the quickness needed — he ran a 6.70-second 3-cone drill coming out of Utah in 2015 — and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick believes Rowe’s experience at safety could help if he’s moved inside.
“That’s one position inside from corner, so there is certainly some relevance to that,” Belichick said.
Rowe has been pushing to play more in the slot.
“I’m trying to be more versatile so I can go inside or out,” Rowe said. “In the spring, I kept telling the coaches, ‘Hey, I got the cornerback spot’ — not like I got it down 100 percent, but — ‘I got a much better understanding, you know, I’m studying the slot role, try me out.’ They threw me in and I had a little bit of success, so it’s not like a focus focus, but for me, I’m trying to learn all the spots.”
It would be a major shift for Rowe, who specialized on bigger receivers in his first season with the Patriots. But if playing the slot means more time on the field for Rowe, he’s up for it. And the additional responsibility certainly isn’t affecting his play early in camp.
Rowe is competing with second-year pros Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones, veteran Justin Coleman and rookies D.J. Killings, William Likely, Kenny Moore and Dwayne Thomas for the No. 3 spot behind Butler and Gilmore.
Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images
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