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Patriots notebook: Eric Rowe makes early jump at cornerback

July 29, 2017 GMT

FOXBORO — If the idea of the Patriots’ traditional nickel defense is to field the three best cornerbacks, thus far Eric Rowe is making it an easy choice for Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.

Rowe has backed up an impressive nine-week offseason workout program with two stout days to open training camp. He has two interceptions and two pass breakups in team drills and is the only Patriot to get his hands on more than two passes.

Yesterday, Rowe made a nifty pick on Jimmy Garoppolo’s back-shoulder bid for Devin Lucien and later swatted aside Tom Brady’s attempt for Julian Edelman.

Over the spring, he was the only player in five open practices to intercept Brady.

“It’s going well right now. I’m just trying to continue the momentum, I had in the spring with OTAs and into training camp,” Rowe said after yesterday’s practice. “I know (Thursday) I had a pick, but I was like, ‘OK, no one cares about (Thursday). It’s about today now.’ I’m just trying to string days together.”

Obviously, with 40 days until the regular-season opener against the Chiefs, very few can claim an early victory in the pursuit of an open job, but Rowe is off to the right start. Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler are the clear-cut starting cornerbacks, and Rowe will continue to try to ward off Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones and a crop of youngsters led by undrafted rookie Kenny Moore.

With Rowe, ignore the stigma that a nickel corner must be pigeonholed to the slot. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder doesn’t have the compact body and lateral quickness that is often preferred for slot corners, but Belichick tends to defer to fielding his best players for a given situation, size be damned.

“I’m trying to be more versatile,” said Rowe, who got some chances to play in the slot early in his career with the Eagles.

Rowe’s head was on a swivel during the offseason. He played well during the Super Bowl run and probably figured he’d get a chance to start with Logan Ryan’s assumed departure. But before that actually happened, the Patriots landed Gilmore on a whopping five-year, $65 million deal.

Rowe was admittedly “surprised” to see the Gilmore signing flash across his TV screen while he was away on vacation, but he is up for the challenge of earning a job. So far, he has handled it well.

“Yeah, it kind of puts me down the depth chart, but my mindset is to come out here and keep making plays,” Rowe said. “Really, that’s how I have fun.”

Still cooking

Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan are tied for the lead through two practices with seven receptions on Brady passes. Cooks’ consistency in the spring and two training camp workouts is a positive sign considering his status as a new guy at a tricky position, regardless of his talent and past accomplishments.

So far, Cooks has been impressed with the competition across the board at camp.

“Anytime you’ve got the competition level high every single day, it should bring your best, and that’s what you want,” Cooks said. …

Cyrus Jones took exception to Hogan after the receiver beat him for a modest gain on an out route. Hogan appeared to talk a little trash as he walked toward the huddle, and Jones lightly head-butted Hogan before punching the ball out of Hogan’s hands and walking away.

“Football, it’s an emotional game,” Jones said. “It’s over and done with.”

Not amused

Belichick didn’t care for a string of generalized questions about specific players, and an inquiry over rookie receiver Austin Carr set him off on a rant.

His point was well-taken. The Patriots finally will put on pads today, so everything that happened until this point is generally useless for a coach who still longs for the era of two-a-days.

“You guys are asking a lot of questions about what have we seen from this guy, what are we seeing from that guy,” Belichick said. “We’ve yet to put on pads, all right? I understand that this is a pretty talented group of evaluators in this room, but in all honesty, our evaluations come more in training camp when we actually practice and we can fully execute the techniques and the plays that we’re trying to do.

“So the main thing we try to get done in the spring and the main thing we’re trying to get done in these two days is to teach the players what to do to give them the most fundamental instruction that we can, given the restraints that we have on practice. Then when padded practices and, I would say real training camp starts (today), we’ll continue for quite a while after that, including the preseason games, is when the real evaluations start.”