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Patriots CB Jalen Mills: 'Competition Brings Out the Best'

Jalen Mills is once again expected to be among the primary defenders in the Patriots secondary in the upcoming season.

There are few, if any, teams that value versatility in the defensive backfield more than the Patriots. 

New England continued that trend by adding defensive back Jalen Mills on a four-year, $24 million deal prior to the 2021 season. 

Patriots CB Jalen Mills
Jalen Mills
Patriots DB Jalen Mills

Despite aligning at strong safety for the majority of his 2020 season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Mills was quite effective in his role of outside cornerback in 2021 with New England.

However, in the wake of the departure of cornerback J.C. Jackson, the team’s former top option at the position, Mills is preparing for some friendly, but productive competition heading into 2022 training camp. 

"Competition brings the best out of everybody," Mills told reporters via video conference on Thursday. "Bill [Belichick] is going to demand that the competition level be high. I think that's just gonna make everybody better in that room."

Mills is once again expected to be among the primary defenders in the Patriots secondary in the upcoming season. Though he almost exclusively played the role of the second option at outside cornerback last eason, he has evolved into a defensive back capable of aligning in each spot within the secondary. 

Whether he is able to claim the top spot on the depth chart is still a matter which remains up for debate. Mills will be competing for that role with veteran Malcolm Butler, who agreed to return to New England for his second tour of duty with the organization in March. While each will be eager to showcase his talents, this competition appears to be devoid of acrimony. 

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When specifically asked about Butler, Mills revealed to reporters that the two had connected when the veteran corner was taking his physical to join the team. Mills expressed his respect for Butler, while acknowledging that the two will push each other in the months ahead. “Now we’re in the room, competing against each other, and making each other better,” Mills said. 

When he signed with the Patriots as a free agent in March 2021, Mills was a primary candidate to align as the Patriots’ third perimeter cornerback, while also lining up in the slot and at either safety spot; similar to the role vacated by former Pats corner Jason McCourty. However, following the trade of Stephon Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers, Mills became the team’s primary option as their starting second cornerback; a role which he is likely to continue in 2022, unless called upon to become the primary option at the position. Throughout the 2021 regular season, Mills amassed 47 total tackles (35 of which have been solo tackles), one tackle for loss and seven passes defensed. His 913 defensive snaps finished third on the team in the regular season behind Jackson and captain Devin McCourty.

Though the argument can be made that Mills is still becoming acclimated to life in New England, he is also embracing his role as a mentor to some of the younger corners on the roster. With rookie minicamp set to begin on Friday, May 13, recent draftees Marcus Jones, Jack Jones and undrafted free agent Devin Hafford will represent the cornerback position. The man known as the ‘green goblin’ will be remaining in town, and indicated that he may stop by the team facilities in Foxboro to lend his support to his future teammates.

Malcolm Butler

Ultimately, Mills realizes that in order to move forward, the team must move on from the past. Despite being unable to play in the Pats lone playoff game in 2021 (a 47-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills) while on Reserve/COVID-19, he is motivated to help his team turn the page and prove the doubters wrong in 2022.

“That situation is what it is. It was last year,” said Mills. 

“Totally different locker room now; totally different energy. We’re looking forward to this 2022 season and what we have at stake.”