FOXBOROUGH — Patriots rookie Joejuan Williams looks at me and doesn’t say a word.
His eyes are attentive, but he utters nothing.
“That’s Steph,” Williams eventually says, laughing.
Williams’s impression may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect, but cornerback Stephon Gilmore is a man of few words. When he does speak, his gentle voice is usually at a soft volume. Teammate Jonathan Jones remembers how he occasionally had to ask Gilmore to repeat himself when the $65 million free agent first arrived in New England in 2017.
“He’s really kind of like a Batman type,” added Williams. “When I lean in, he gets the gist, like, ‘You got to say it again.’ I really just try to open my ears when he talks because it’s hella low.”
Gilmore’s even-keeled demeanor contrasts that of a typical defensive back, customarily one of the loudest mouths in a locker room. Think Jalen Ramsey or Richard Sherman. The position has been home to players eager to flaunt — and verbalize — their dominance.
“My wife sometimes gets mad I’m not more like that,” Gilmore said. “I feel she thinks a lot of people overlook you if you’re more laid-back. But if you say it, you know how the world is, it builds a lot of stuff around you.”
Instead, Gilmore lets his lock-down defense do the talking. Through six weeks, opposing quarterbacks have a 48.3 passer rating when targeting him.
In a mic’d up segment from Week 6, Gilmore’s tight coverage was perhaps more captivating than any of the sound bites caught on film. He vouched for an incompletion to an official, lamented missed opportunities, predicted he would get an interception, and even requested beef jerky as a mid-game snack. But none of his words overshadowed his performance on the field, a day in which he finished with a pick as well as four pass break-ups.
That’s Gilmore. There’s excitement, there’s passion for the game, and there’s dominance. You just won’t hear much about the last one from him. Nor will you witness flashy celebrations, no matter how big the play.
“I try not to bring no attention to myself,” Gilmore said.
Part of Gilmore’s behavior could be an extension of “The Patriot Way,” but the 2018 first-team All-Pro selection operated the same when he was with the Buffalo Bills for the first five seasons of his career. No bulletin-board material. No finger-wagging. No yelling.
Gilmore said even as a kid he was never loud because he always had his sights on the next opportunity. Never satisfied, he aimed to avoid complacency by rarely dwelling on the moment at hand.
“I try not to get too high or too low,” he said. “I’m always thinking about the next thing. I think that’s the reason why I am how I am. Because you can make 10 plays, but then one play doesn’t go how you want.”
Fellow members of the secondary will argue that Gilmore talks a bit more than people give him credit for. It’s not so much about the number of words said, rather more about his overall vibe. Even when he’s hailed as the best cornerback in the league, he still is putting his head down, trying to prove he’s deserving of the honor.
“Steph really just loves the game,” secondary coach Steve Belichick said. “He has a strong passion for the game and holds himself to a high, high, standard. When he goes out there, he wants to be the best.”
Gilmore’s refreshing humility has served as an example for Williams, a 21-year-old second-round draft pick who also happens to be his locker neighbor.
“He just really goes about his business,” Williams said. “He does his job on the practice field, on the game field, on and off the field. He’s all about the business. He’s one of the elite players at his position, so at the end of the day, he don’t got nothing to say, really.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.