FOXBORO, Mass. — Eric Rowe has found himself in a new position this summer.
And that’s not just literally on the field but also in his standing on the team. Last summer, Rowe’s first offseason with the Patriots, he was well behind Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler on the cornerback depth chart, so he was working inside as the Patriots’ slot cornerback. He had dreams of passing Gilmore or Butler to be the team’s No. 2 option, but they weren’t realistic at the time.
“Last year I kind of knew that Malcolm and Steph were on the outside, but I still took it as, ‘Well, maybe if I can push my way past one of them, maybe,'” Rowe said. “But it was just something to keep me going instead of just saying, ‘OK, I’m going to be the third corner this year and just lay back.’ Really, it’s the same approach this year even with the open slot kind of still there. Just pushing myself to try to be a starter with the team.”
Rowe entered this summer as the Patriots’ No. 2 cornerback, starting across the field on the boundary from Gilmore. Rowe is now in the position of fending off competition like Jason McCourty and young corners like JC Jackson and Ryan Lewis, and he’s doing a great job of it so far.
Rowe had a strong training camp, and he’s allowed just two catches on six targets for 20 yards with a pass breakup, according to Pro Football Focus.
It shouldn’t come as a major surprise that Rowe has played well outside this summer. He allowed 11 catches on 19 targets for 221 yards with a touchdown as a slot cornerback last season and just five receptions on eight targets for 49 yards on the boundary. He allowed a passer rating of 116.3 in the slot and just 79.7 outside.
“Eric’s a player with good versatility,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “He played safety in college, has played on the perimeter, he’s played inside, he’s played in some dime situations for us, rarely as a linebacker, obviously passing situations, but he has multiple skills. He’s a smart guy. He’s able to handle multiple assignments. So, again, we need players like that. Every team needs players like that on the roster. Every guy doesn’t have to be able to do that, but you’ve got to have somebody that has some versatility. He certainly falls into that category.”
Rowe certainly doesn’t mind being moved back outside. It’s where he first started playing cornerback as a senior at Utah.
“It’s definitely easier in a sense of in the middle, everything’s kind of moving fast, little more assignments in the slot,” Rowe said. “On the outside, it’s man or zone. Obviously, it’s not easier covering your man, but it’s man or zone, I got the sideline to help me. The transition, now that I know both ways, is kind of a little bit easier to play outside than inside.”
Rowe hasn’t locked up the starting role, but he’s done nothing to give it up with over two weeks left in the preseason. Rowe knows he just has to keep doing what he’s doing to stay with the first team with the regular season on the horizon.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images