FOXBORO, Mass. — When Jalen Mills signed with the Patriots in 2021, he was expected to play a multipositional role in New England’s secondary.

It took two years, but that role finally is materializing for the veteran defensive back.

After serving as a starting outside cornerback in his first two Patriots seasons, Mills has taken on new responsibilities this spring. Nearly all of the practice reps he took in New England’s first two open organized team activities came at safety or in the slot.

Mills has prior experience at both of those spots, but little in a Patriots uniform. He lined up in the slot on just 11.6% of the 1,382 defensive snaps he’s played for New England, per Pro Football Focus, and hasn’t played a single snap at free safety since 2020, when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. All 26 of his starts for the Patriots came at outside corner.

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It’s different, Mills acknowledged. But he’s enjoying it.

“For sure, man,” the 29-year-old said after Tuesday’s OTA. “It gives me the ability to not only show my versatility but be around the ball a little more and make more plays.”

Mills is one of several players who’ve received looks at Devin McCourty’s old free safety position in spring practice. Defensive play-caller Steve Belichick said before OTAs that the team was holding an “open competition” to replace its longtime defensive leader, who started every game over his final seven seasons before retiring earlier this year. Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers, Joshuah Bledsoe and third-round rookie Marte Mapu also have taken reps there.

McCourty attended one Patriots practice last week, and Mills said he’s been leaning on his former teammate as he makes his position change. Mills played 236 snaps at free safety for Philadelphia in 2020 but just 10 total over his six other NFL seasons.

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“You best believe we’re keeping in great contact with (McCourty),” said Mills, who hinted at his switch on Twitter this offseason. “For sure me, asking him a lot of questions.”

The Patriots also are giving Mills opportunities in the slot. That’s where he was positioned in the opening round of 11-on-11 drills Tuesday, with Jonathan Jones and top draft pick Christian Gonzalez taking first reps at outside corner.

“It’s really on (the coaches),” Mills explained. “Guys in the secondary, we come out in the huddle. I might be out there with Pep and Dugg, and they’re like, ‘Hey Mills, go to nickel this drive.’ Or they might be like, ‘Hey, go get on a tight end this drive.’ Or they might be like, ‘Hey, go to the middle this drive.’ So I think it’s just, we talk about the versatility of guys being able to play every different thing, because now quarterbacks can’t just say, ‘OK, this guy’s going to be here, this guy’s going to be here. This is what (coverage) they’re in.’ “

He added: “Here with the Patriots, everything is a little bit unexpected. But when your number’s called, you have to be ready.”

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At one point this offseason, it appeared Mills, who missed the final six games of 2022 with a groin injury, would not be back for a third season in New England. Multiple outlets reported in March that the Patriots planned to release him, but he wound up taking a pay cut to stick around, agreeing to a revised contract that cut his salary cap hit in half.

Mills declined to revisit those negotiations.

“I’m here; I’m happy,” he said. “I wanted to be a Patriot, and I’m here.”

Featured image via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images