Patriots Could Be Dangerously Thin At Key Position In Week 1 Vs. Dolphins

Cornerback depth is a major question mark for the Patriots


Sep 9, 2021

FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots had perfect practice attendance again Thursday, but one important player appeared to be operating at less than 100 percent.

Defensive back Jalen Mills, who reportedly rolled his ankle during Wednesday’s practice, looked limited in the brief period that reporters were permitted to watch, moving slowly through the team’s stretching lines.

(UPDATE: Mills and wide receiver Nelson Agholor both did not participate in practice, according to the Patriots’ injury report.)

Losing Mills for this Sunday’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins would exacerbate an already pressing problem for the Patriots’ defense.

Mills is expected to start at cornerback opposite J.C. Jackson because usual starter Stephon Gilmore is on the physically unable to perform list and cannot play in New England’s first six games. That already was a dicey proposition, as Mills struggled as an outside corner in Philadelphia before the Eagles shifted him into a multipositional do-everything role last season.

If Mills, who was far from dominant in training camp and the preseason, can’t go against Miami, the Patriots likely would replace him with either Joejuan Williams or Shaun Wade.

Williams, a 2019 second-round draft pick, has yet to earn consistent playing time in New England’s defense and seemed to fall down the depth chart late in the preseason. Wade has promise as a once-highly regarded college prospect, but he was traded before the end of his rookie preseason and has been with the Patriots for just two weeks.

Rounding out New England’s cornerback room are top slot option Jonathan Jones and special teamer Justin Bethel. Bethel, an elite punt gunner, has played more than 1,200 defensive snaps in his NFL career but just 20 over the past three seasons, playing almost exclusively in the kicking game. The only defensive backs on the Patriots’ practice squad are slot/safety hybrids Myles Bryant and D’Angelo Ross.

The Dolphins will be without suspended deep-threat wideout Will Fuller this week but still feature a solid receiving corps consisting of DeVante Parker, rookie Jaylen Waddle, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant, plus a tight end in Mike Gesicki who had 703 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season. Parker famously torched Gilmore and the Patriots for 137 yards on eight catches in Miami’s 2019 upset win at Gillette Stadium.

Thumbnail photo via Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports Images
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