Stephon Gilmore was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. But he knows that honor will mean little when he takes the field against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13.
The New England Patriots’ star cornerback said Monday he remains focused on day-to-day improvement even after reaching the peak of his position a year ago.
“I have to earn it,” Gilmore said after the Patriots’ first padded practice of training camp. “Whatever my goals are, whatever I want to achieve, I have to earn it. It’s not easy. Practicing hard, working on my technique and making plays with my teammates. It takes day-to-day preparation and day-to-day execution. So (I’m) just looking forward to training camp and looking forward to the season and seeing how it goes.”
Already considered arguably the NFL’s top corner entering 2019, Gilmore erased opponents’ top receivers on a near-weekly basis last season, neutralizing the likes of Amari Cooper, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Robby Anderson and Tyler Boyd with smothering man coverage. He surrendered just one touchdown — to Buffalo’s John Brown in Week 16 — while ranking first in the NFL in passes defended (20) and tied for first in interceptions (six).
Gilmore, who continued to work on his skills with former NFL cornerback Dre Bly this offseason, said his approach won’t change heading into the 2020 campaign.
“I just try to be the same guy and player that I am,” he said. “I just put in work each and every day. And I know what it took for me last year to play consistently each and every game. There’s nothing I can do but just put my head down and work hard and try to achieve things this year each and every day.”
Gilmore shouldn’t have any trouble getting himself motivated for New England’s season opener. That game will feature a rematch with Dolphins top wideout DeVante Parker, who went off for eight catches on 11 targets for 137 yards in Miami’s shocking Week 17 upset at Gillette Stadium. Seven of those catches (on nine targets) and 117 of those yards came with Gilmore in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I just take it day by day,” Gilmore said. “It’s not easy. You have to work for whatever you earn in this league, whatever accolades you win, you have to work for. So I know it’s not going to be easy. I have to put the work in each and every day and compete against my teammates and get better. Hopefully, that carries over to the game, but it takes one day at a time, and that’s how I approach it.”
Even after losing safeties Patrick Chung (opt out) and Duron Harmon (trade), the Patriots again should boast one of the NFL’s elite secondaries. New England returns its entire 2019 cornerback group — headlined by Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones — as well as top safety Devin McCourty, who played at a Pro Bowl level last season.