Stephon Gilmore is not a rest-on-your-laurels kind of player. Even after winning the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, he’s not satisfied. He’s not sitting on his past accolades, enjoying the scenery at the top.
Instead, he’s pushing himself to get better.
Videos posted by North Carolina cornerbacks coach Dre Bly, who has been training Gilmore in recent years, attest to that.
Gilmore, from Rock Hill, S.C., typically takes a 30-minute ride to Charlotte to meet up and train with Bly, a former NFL All-Pro cornerback.
In between virtual meetings with the team and his position group, the Patriots top defender and league’s premier shutdown corner has been honing his skills, diligently working with Bly to try to improve in areas he might feel a bit deficient.
This is his usual preparation for a season, and each year, he just seems to dial it up even more before arriving at training camp. With the offseason program going the virtual route, Gilmore has taken advantage of being home in South Carolina, getting in extra work with Bly.
Hall of Famer Ty Law has certainly noticed Gilmore’s commitment and dedication to making himself better each year. He wasn’t surprised to learn Gilmore was working toward taking his talent to another level. In fact, he recognized the pattern.
“That’s what the great ones do, he is amongst the giants of the league and has a desire to be the best and stay there,” Law told the Herald via text. “I’m loving what he is doing and looking forward to another big year for him.”
Having the desire to remain on top was also a trait of Law, who was a three-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler in New England.
Law always tried to stay a step ahead.
Every offseason, he spent countless hours with his trainer, Bob Kersee. Law would leave his Florida home, and move into an apartment in St. Louis in order to work out with the renowned track and field coach, whose wife, Jackie Joyner Kersee, won five medals in three Olympics in the heptathlon and long jump.
Law’s training with Kersee had him missing the voluntary camps, but it was all part of making him the best corner in the league and chief nemesis of Peyton Manning.
“I had my own regimen that I followed with Bob,” said Law. “It was (expletive) brutal, definitely not for the faint of heart.”
Law figured all of the brutal sessions would help take him to the next level — and it did. All the hard work paid off with his bust now sitting in Canton.
That’s why he loves seeing Gilmore extend himself, and work even harder after hitting a pinnacle of sorts. Having gotten to know the Patriots cornerback in recent years, traveling with him to Israel during owner Robert Kraft’s annual pilgrimage, Law isn’t surprised by Gilmore’s dedication. But he still appreciates the effort the Patriots star is putting in to stay ahead of the curve.
At age 29, working with Bill Belichick and a top-notch defensive coaching staff, Gilmore is much more polished and knowledgeable about playing cornerback.
He’s always had the speed, agility, and toughness required to excel at the position. In recent years, he’s gained more insights about the nuances of receivers and route-running that he usually knows which way they’re going before making their break.
This is what Bly tweeted about Gilmore after a recent session: “It’s not by mistake That @Patriots @BumpNrunGilm0re was the #NFL’s #DPOY last year! This Dude loves Ball! He will pick your mind about the game/position and he will ask a lot of questions! Then he perfects his craft and executes the plan! #formula to being the Best! Take Notes!”
Gilmore doesn’t think he has all the answers. He’s always looking for ways to improve his technique, and ways to better decipher opponents.
“He’s the real deal. And he still seeks advice and asks questions. He’s still eager to learn,” Law said of the shutdown corner. “If he keeps it up, he’ll be around a long time. One day, you’ll see him in the Patriots Hall of Fame, and the NFL Hall of Fame, as well.”
Last season, with Gilmore basically eliminating one side of the field while defending the opponent’s top target, the Patriots finished first in total defense (yards per game allowed) at 275.9 and interceptions (25). Gilmore also finished tied for the league lead in interceptions (six), was second in interceptions returned for touchdowns (two) and third in passer rating allowed (47.4, per Pro Football Focus). Add 20 passes defended and 53 tackles, and it earned him DPOY honors.
And it’s still not enough. Gilmore is driven to continually improve.
SiriusXM NFL analyst Solomon Wilcots, a former NFL defensive back, has always been a fan. He also wasn’t surprised to see the work Gilmore was doing with Bly, and the commitment to remain the best.
“You’re seeing the culmination of having a great athlete, who is sort of built to play that position, combining his skills with great coaching,” said Wilcots. “He runs with the best wide receiver every single week, and is asked to be at the top of his game every week. It’s not easy. The fact he’s been able to do that speaks to his character, work ethic, and having great discipline fundamentally. He seems to have achieved that.”