NFL Notes: How the Patriots learned Christian Gonzalez is a budding star

Late within the first half of their loss to Miami in Week 2, the Patriots’ defensive employees approached rookie Christian Gonzalez with a laughable process: shadow 7-time Pro Bowler, 4-time All-Pro and sure future Hall of Fame wideout Tyreek Hill.

At the time, Gonzalez was the one wholesome cornerback atop their depth chart. The Dolphins led 10-3 and have been about to open a 2-minute drill. That drive finally completed with a landing, one Miami scored by pulling Hill away from Gonzalez and pitting him in opposition to security Kyle Dugger.

The Pats then trotted into their locker room, pissed off by their 14-point deficit; a starkly completely different feeling than what Gonzalez’s teammates skilled upon listening to his new project.

“I was like, ‘Oh, here we go,’” Dugger remembered. “Because I know how talented (Gonzalez) is.”

“Honestly, it was a no-flinch situation,” mentioned Pats security Jalen Mills. “All right, let’s do this. He knows what he’s here for.”

In the quarters that adopted, Gonzalez launched himself to a nationwide viewers by intercepting an underthrown deep ball for Hill; a play that started with security Jabrill Peppers calling for the 2 of them to modify assignments. So, Gonzalez dropped deep, and Peppers flew ahead to defend in opposition to an obvious run that Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as a substitute faked on a play-action cross.

Foxboro, MA – February 17: The New England Patriots have fun the interception by Christian Gonzalez in the course of the fourth quarter of the sport at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

Hill zipped down the sideline, charging right into a 1-on-1 matchup with Gonzalez; nightmare gasoline for many cornerbacks. But not this child.

Gonzalez, armed together with his personal elite pace and ball abilities that might make an novice juggler jealous, remained affected person, enjoying Hill and the ball concurrently. His interception caught the attention of yet one more Patriots security, although Devin McCourty didn’t have fun on the sideline. He was tons of of miles away, working as an analyst on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and witnessing Gonzalez man his previous put up like a 10-year veteran.

“A lot of guys, when Tyreek Hill gets to you, you’re worried so much about how fast he’s moving that you lose track of where the ball is. But (Gonzalez) saw where the ball was,” mentioned McCourty instructed the Herald. “He’s like, ‘I’m back here at a safety-type of position. I can see the ball.’ And if he runs so fast and Tua’s not throwing the ball all the way down there, Hill’s speed doesn’t matter.”

Every week later, McCourty texted his brother, Jason, one other ex-Patriot turned media member, about Gonzalez. They had each tuned into the Pats’ sport in opposition to the Jets final Sunday. After Gonzalez helped restrict Hill to a few catches for 15 yards in that second half, he held Jets star receiver Garrett Wilson to 2 receptions for 13 innocent yards that afternoon.

Jason shared his unofficial scouting report: “Yo, Gonzalez is nice!”

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Through Devin knew of Gonzalez’s potential effectively earlier than his brother and the remainder of football-watching world. In the spring, Patriots cornerback coach Mike Pellegrino gushed about Gonzalez after attending a pre-draft exercise.

“He was like, ‘Dev, he moves like a five-foot-eight corner, but he’s six-two!” McCourty mentioned. “I just remember at the time, Mike really liked him. And he had no idea if they were going to draft him but, but he told me ‘I really think this kid can be a really good player.’”

Soon after the Patriots drafted Gonzalez, teammates started stopping McCourty on his visits to the ability and supplied their very own rave opinions. About his fluid motion, quick toes and studious method within the classroom. Gonzalez, simply 20 on the time, appeared to have a head begin on greedy Bill Belichick’s protection, after enjoying beneath Oregon head coach Dan Lanning, a distant department on Nick Saban’s teaching tree.

“You can tell he’s been coached up the right way,” Peppers mentioned. “He’s smart, conceptualizes things very well.”

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“There wasn’t a time (in OTAs) where I had to say a whole lot to him,” Dugger mentioned. “I would give him the call, communicate it, and he knows what to do. From that early on, it let me know he knows what’s going on.”

Months later, Gonzalez accelerated his teammates’ perception and belief in him throughout mid-August practices at Green Bay. In a 2-minute drill, he batted away a possible landing cross meant for Packers receiver Christian Watson. Meanwhile, Green Bay’s schemes examined the Patriots protection down after down in a means their offense hadn’t in coaching camp.

Gonzalez handed.

“That was a passing team throwing a lot of different wrinkles at us. And we had to do a lot of communicating in the secondary,” Mills mentioned. “That was a time we came together as a team and as a defense, being able to make checks and think on the fly and make plays on the fly. That’s when I saw a lot of growth from him.”

Outside the constructing, phrase continued to achieve McCourty about Gonzalez’s improvement and flexibility. The rookie wasn’t restricted enjoying to man or zone or beholden to sure matchups. The Patriots may sport plan precisely as they noticed match, with no issues concerning the rookie.

New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez (6)cbreaks up a pass intended for Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown, right, in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell)
New England Patriots cornerback Christian Gonzalez (6)cbreaks up a cross meant for Philadelphia Eagles extensive receiver A.J. Brown, proper, within the second half of an NFL soccer sport, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Mark Stockwell)

“The conversations I’ve had with (defensive coaches) Steve (Belichick) and Jerod (Mayo), they’re never telling me like, ‘Man, this guy, like, we have to do this or do that with him,” McCourty mentioned. “‘They’re just like, Yo, he’s been awesome.’”

The employees’s actions spoke loudest. Gonzalez began Week 1, a baptism by fireplace in opposition to Eagles stars A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, each 1,000-yard receivers. That evening, Gonzlaez broke up a fourth-down cross contained in the final two minutes, a play that allowed for a possible game-winning drive. The subsequent week, he shadowed Hill.

Now by means of three video games, Gonzalez has missed only a single defensive snap; one thing no Patriots rookie nook has managed in additional than 10 years; not Jack Jones nor J.C. Jackson or Malcolm Butler.

“Obviously he has a great understanding of the defense because Bill (Belichick)’s never in a rush to put rookies out there every play,” McCourty mentioned. “The fact he is out there at corner every play, I think means … they’re not worried about being in a 2-minute situation or another type of situation. They’re like, ‘Nope. He’s got it.’”

Ahead of Sunday’s sport in opposition to the Cowboys, Gonzalez’s excellent play has impressed the Patriots to interrupt one in all their hard-and-fast media guidelines: no comparisons. But even Belichick could not resist, noting Monday on WEEI that Gonzalez’s quiet temperament reminds him of Stephon Gilmore, an ex-Patriot who will begin for Dallas this weekend.

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Dugger sees it, too.

“I try not to compare, either,” he started, “but I definitely drew the same comparison as far as how they carry carry themselves in the small time I was able to be around Steph and small time I’ve been able to be around Gonzo.”

How so? Dugger laughed.

“The silence.”

He continued: “But you can see the competitive nature when they do speak. With both of those guys, it’s usually in the heat of competition when it does come out, and then you know that dog’s in there. Don’t let that silence fool you because that dog is in there.”

Pats edge-rusher Matthew Judon went the furthest together with his comparability this week. In reality, he mentioned Gonzalez’ calm and protection presents virtually haven’t any parallel amongst rookie corners.

“The skill and the poise that he plays with at cornerback, for a young player, is kind of unseen,” Judon mentioned. “You see it within the greats. You noticed it when Jalen Ramsey got here out (in 2016). Whoever he was in entrance of, he simply stayed in entrance of, and he lined and he matched. (Gonzalez) has a variety of potential.”