FOXBORO – Stephon Gilmore has little time to enjoy his on-field success.
Those moments typically happen on Sundays – if the Patriots win. He’ll admit to being “a little happy” if that’s the case. By the time Monday comes, Gilmore watches his performance and picks apart what he did wrong. When Tuesday comes, he focuses on recovery and that’s when the iPad comes on.
Gilmore doesn’t learn his weekly assignment until Wednesday, but at that point, he wants to be ahead, so he’s already watched some film of the Patriots’ next opponent. You can usually find him, at home with a wife and two kids, on his back studying receivers, play calls and formations.
He’ll return to Gillette for practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They’ll go through more film, implement the game plan and lift weights. By the time he returns home, he’s back on the iPad. By now, he knows which receiver he’ll be facing so Gilmore watches every route that player has run this season.
It’s an exhausting process, but one that’s turned Gilmore into one of the best players on the Patriots this season. The 28-year-old has been a lock-down cornerback through the first six games. Athletically, he’s always been elite, but Gilmore’s improved study habits play a big part in his on-field success.
“Yeah, that’s true. I got smarter and prepare a little bit better,” Gilmore said. “I’ve got great coaches. They put me in position to make plays. Every week it changes, you’ve got to prove yourself every week. I take that mindset. Nobody cares what you did last week. It’s a new week so you’ve got to prove yourself.”
Following the Patriots’ dramatic 43-40 win over the Kansas Chiefs Sunday night, there weren’t many bright spots in the defense. Gilmore, however, was one. The cornerback was targeted four times by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and allowed two receptions for 18 yards. The first pass he saw, in the end zone, he batted down. That’s become a trend this season.
Entering Week 7, Gilmore has eight passes defended – one behind the tied league leaders. By comparison, Gilmore had nine in 13 games last season.
On Sunday, Gilmore’s assignment was Sammy Watkins. That meant that he dove into his iPad all week studying the receiver and the Chiefs’ offense. When the game film starts, Gilmore focuses on the offensive formation on each play. The first thing he looks for is the receiver’s playing speed. As the game goes on, he imagines himself on the field.
“Once they tell me our assignments, I just try to put myself in a position to watch it on film and see what I would do in a certain formation and just play the game in my head,” Gilmore said. “I watch every game. Sometimes if I don’t have enough film on this year I even go back to last year. I see how they release off the ball, it’s the little things you have to look at, at corner, to try and get a certain step on guys.”
The goal is to be able to anticipate each play while playing good technique. The worst thing that could happen, for Gilmore is that he has to guess what the receiver is about to do. For example, Gilmore said he had a certain idea of what Watkins would do on Sunday and thanks to his studies, he was able to play naturally. Of course, in the NFL, it’s hard to know exactly will happen before the game starts.
“I always go into a game, ‘what are they going to do that’s new?’” Gilmore said. “All teams game plan each week for different teams… You say you never know when the ball will come your way in the game so you have to be prepared every play.”
On Wednesday, Belichick credited Gilmore’s “work ethic, his preparation, his mental toughness” for his play this year. This season, quarterbacks are completing just 40 percent of the passes they’ve throw at Gilmore and he’s playing like a Pro Bowl cornerback.
Of course, he doesn’t have time to slow down and think about that.
“I mean, it’s a new week,” Gilmore said. “I’ve got to do it against Chicago.”
Mark Daniels writes for the Providence Journal of GateHouse Media.