What Patriots Coaches Said About DB’s Reported Position Change

Is Jalen Mills moving to safety?


Apr 18, 2023

FOXBORO, Mass. — According to Jalen Mills, he’s been playing out of position since he joined the New England Patriots two years ago.

That might change this season.

The veteran defensive back raised eyebrows when he tweeted in mid-March that he “really play(s) safety.” The Score’s Jordan Schultz subsequently reported that the Patriots plan to play him there moving forward.

Mills, who last month agreed to a reworked one-year contract worth up to $6.1 million, was used almost exclusively as an outside cornerback during his first two Patriots seasons. He occasionally shifted into the slot but has yet to play a single snap at free safety in a New England uniform, per Pro Football Focus’s snap count data.

The 29-year-old does have experience there from his time with the Philadelphia Eagles, however, who used him as a do-it-all DB in 2020. That season, he played more than 180 snaps at wide corner (227), slot corner (182), free safety (236) and in the box (329), plus another 39 on the D-line, per PFF. Safety also was Mills’ primary position in college at LSU, though he’s rarely played there at the NFL level outside of that 2020 campaign.

Patriots safeties coach Brian Belichick was asked Tuesday what role he envisions for Mills this season. He downplayed the importance of Mills’ positional designation but indicated he possesses more versatility than he was able to showcase in 2021 and 2022.

“For our defense, we categorize everyone on the back end as DBs,” Belichick said. “We’re pretty position-flexible. Whatever people want to call the guys, whatever they want to call themselves, that isn’t important to us. It’s more (about) the roles that they can help us with on the back end, and Jalen Mills, just like a lot of our guys, has been a guy who can help us in multiple different roles doing multiple different jobs.

“Like a lot of guys who have come through here — Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Myles Bryant, (Kyle) Dugger, (Adrian) Phillips. They all played different roles — outside, inside, covered different guys. Those are the types of guys that we want on our defense.”

The Patriots’ secondary is loaded with multipositional players, and they’ll likely lean on several of them to replace retired free safety Devin McCourty, who didn’t miss a game over his final seven seasons and rarely left the field. New England doesn’t have an obvious 1-for-1 replacement for McCourty, but Mills, Bryant, Dugger, Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones and Joshuah Bledsoe all have varying levels of free safety experience.

Linebackers coach and defensive play-caller Steve Belichick said Mills will be a candidate to take on at least some of McCourty’s responsibilities.

“I think it’s really an open competition,” Belichick said Tuesday. “So if he’s the best guy in that role, then I’ll expect to be out there doing that. But there are a lot of other guys who are in the competition for that, as well as all the other spots on defense.”

McCourty was the Patriots’ only notable defensive departure this offseason, with the team opting to re-sign nearly all of its internal free agents on that side of the ball. Initial reports indicated New England planned to release Mills before he agreed to stay on a new, cheaper contract.

Mills missed the final six games last season with a lingering groin injury and received a PFF grade that ranked 115th out of 118 qualified cornerbacks.

Thumbnail photo via Lon Horwedel/USA TODAY Sports Images
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