J.C. Jackson impressing Patriots newcomer Jalen Mills behind the scenes

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J.C. Jackson has turned Jalen Mills’ head since the defensive backs started working together this offseason.

Mills joined the New England Patriots as a free-agent signing and has been hugely important to the defense with cornerback Stephon Gilmore struggling to return from a quad injury and surgery. Gilmore’s absence has thrust Mills into an increased role this season, with the newcomer playing alongside Jackson as the starting cornerback tandem. And it doesn’t seem like Mills minds having Jackson as his partner in stopping the opponent’s passing game.

Mills was asked about Jackson’s interception totals over the last 18 games. He has 11, including his two picks in Week 2.

“Yeah man, that’s elite,” Mills said on a videoconference call Tuesday. “He’s working on his craft each and every day. I’m right next to him and to see everything that he worked on, just talking about this week or last week, seeing everything that he worked on last week. And then seeing it come to play on Sunday and him having the two interceptions. Man, that’s the definition of hard work paying off.”

Jackson managed to make two impressive plays last Sunday during the Patriots’ 25-6 win over the New York Jets. Jackson’s first interception came on a play where quarterback Zach Wilson didn’t anticipate the cornerback being able to adjust to the receiver — but Jackson did just that. He flipped his body at the last second and batted the ball into the air, eventually corralling the target for an interception. Later in the game, Jackson was the beneficiary of an awful pass where the ball seemed to come out of Wilson’s hand wrong.

“I don’t care if you’re at safety or corner. That’s what you play for. You want to get your hands on the ball, and the success that he’s had, just talking about this Sunday and last year,” Mills said.

Jackson is in the final year of his contract with the Patriots after joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He immediately rose the ranks on the depth chart as a rookie, and is currently working as the No. 1 cornerback. Jackson was a restricted free agent in 2021 but didn’t draw interest. As a pending unrestricted free agent — baring an extension from New England — he will likely be in high demand in 2022.

“Sometimes, guys who have success, they may slack off or they might ease a little bit. Each and every day, practice Wednesday through Friday, he’s trying to do extra,” Mills said. “He’s trying to work on his technique, going on the sideline with coach Mike, working on the deep ball, working on stacks and bunches and motions and he’s right there. That’s what you want to see after a guy’s having a lot of success.”

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