BOSTON -- As outsiders, it's usually fairly evident when a defense employs a No. 1 cornerback. In New England, there's generally been a clear-cut hierarchy on the depth chart, going back to the days of Ty Law, moving on to Asante Samuel, picking up later with Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore and then J.C. Jackson. Whether it's by way of accolades -- like All-Pros and Pro Bowls -- or big-money contracts, the concept of a "No. 1 corner" is fairly well-established.
Bill Belichick, however, is not big on that kind of terminology.
At the beginning of his Tuesday morning press conference, Belichick faced some questions about Jalen Mills, who's entering his second season in New England.
"I think everybody out there is competing to be the best that they can be," Belichick said when asked if Mills looks like he will be the Patriots' top cornerback this season. "Whatever that turns out to be, I don't know. We'll see."
Later, Belichick was asked about his philosophy in building a defense, and whether he believes the team needs a "number one cornerback."
"I don't know. I mean, defensively you have who you have, and you play with who you play with. Number them however you want, doesn't make a difference to me," Belichick said. "You have to put 11 guys out there and they have to play well together, whoever those 11 guys are. I don't know, number one, number two, number one tackle, number two corner, I'm not sure. I'm confused about that."
While there are always multiple ways to build a champion, Belichick has typically found the most success when employing what we commonly refer to as a "No. 1 cornerback." Law manned that role in 2001 and 2003, while Samuel elevated into that role in 2004, when Law got injured. Samuel was still there in 2007 for the undefeated regular season, and the Patriots had Revis (2014), Butler (2016) and Gilmore (2018) in that spot for their second dynastic run. The 2011 season -- which brought about a Super Bowl appearance with Kyle Arrington as the top cornerback and with Julian Edelman getting some extensive work at slot corner in the AFC Championship Game -- would be the one outlier in the Patriots' nine Super Bowl appearances.
Now, obviously, the Patriots are moving on after losing J.C. Jackson to free agency. There's likely a feeling of need from the outside for a No. 1 cornerback to emerge. But for the time being, Belichick does not appear to be concerned about such matters.
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