Bill Belichick was unwilling to discuss Stephon Gilmore ahead of this week’s New England Patriots-Carolina Panthers clash. Two of his wide receivers had no such reservations.
Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry both spoke at length Wednesday about Gilmore, whom they’ll face for the first time as an opponent this Sunday.
“A dog’s going to be a dog, and Steph is definitely a dog,” Meyers told reporters. “He’s somebody who’s smart, aggressive. He just knows the game of football, so I’ve definitely got to be on my A-game this week. If I ever get a chance to go against him — or whoever goes against him — definitely have to be ready because he’s one of those guys who will attack the ball and make you pay.”
Added Harry: “Steph is a phenomenal player. He’s helped me grow as a player over these past couple of years. So I’m excited to be able to get to line up against him this week.”
Meyers and Harry both joined the Patriots as rookies in 2019, Gilmore’s third season with the team. By that time, Gilmore had emerged as one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks — he’d go on to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year that season — and presented a constant challenge for the pair of young wideouts.
“Coming to the NFL, I wanted to go against the best,” Meyers said. “Even if I wasn’t playing the most or getting the most opportunities or whatever it was, I knew that Steph was one of those guys that guys wanted to be coming out of college. A lot of DBs wanted to play like Steph. A lot of guys in the league probably wanted Steph’s career. So going against him (in practice) every day, it helped me get better as a player. It gave me something to look forward to and just pushed me to go harder.”
Harry, a disappointing first-round draft pick who’s shown signs of life in recent weeks, said facing Gilmore on a daily basis was “very important” for his development.
“Just from getting reps,” he said. “A lot of guys don’t get to get reps like that all the time against a player of his caliber on a day-to-day (basis), it really did help me improve as a player.”
Gilmore, whom the Patriots traded to Carolina last month after a lengthy contract dispute, also helped Meyers and Harry with periodic tips and pointers.
“He would just often give me tips, stuff that would help me, stuff that he was seeing,” Harry said. “He would just frequently go over some of the stuff that he was seeing and try to help me make those adjustments and just become a better wide receiver.”
“Steph wasn’t the most vocal guy,” Meyers added, “but he definitely helped me here and there. Like, if he saw a release that he thought was helping or that was definitely working for me, he’d definitely say like, ‘Oh yeah, that one’s working, keep it up.’ Or if (defenders) are sitting on a certain play, he would let me know, like, ‘This is why.’ He didn’t talk to you the most, but the things he did say, if you paid attention, he’d definitely help you out a lot.”
Rookie quarterback Mac Jones shared a similar story about Gilmore shortly after the trade, saying the star corner “actually helped (him) a lot” by talking with him and critiquing his film.
Meyers, Harry, Jones and the rest of the Patriots’ offense now are preparing to face an uber-motivated Gilmore, who pulled down a game-sealing interception Sunday in his Panthers debut. According to ex-Patriots corner Ty Law, Gilmore has had this game “targeted” since his Foxboro exit and believes he is a “superior” to any of New England’s wideouts.
Rounding out the Patriots’ receiving corps are veteran newcomers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Gilmore never practiced against either but was teammates with both for several months and has played against both in the past.
It’s unclear how the Panthers will deploy Gilmore on Sunday — they used him situationally against tight end Kyle Pitts last week — but Meyers knows he’ll be a difficult matchup for whichever pass-catcher he covers.
“If you beat Steph once, then he’s coming back at you,” said Meyers, the Patriots’ No. 1 receiver. “So that’s going to be a good fight. I’m excited to go against him. I’m excited he’s back on the field playing. He ended up catching an interception last week. I’m really happy to see him doing that. Injuries have taken a lot of good guys away from the game, so the fact that he’s back out there doing his thing, I’m happy for him.”