Patriots' CB duo of Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler has great potential

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots will hold their first public training camp practice on July 27. As part of the lead-up to camp, I'll spotlight one position each weekday to highlight the team's personnel and some of the storylines of note.

We covered wide receivers, offensive linemen, running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks last week before moving on to the defense this week, with linebackers, defensive ends and defensive tackles. Today, it's cornerbacks.

Personnel: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, D.J. Killings, Kenny Moore II, Dwayne Thomas, Will Likely

Roster locks: Gilmore, Butler, Rowe, Jonathan Jones

Potential for top CB pairing in Belichick era: The Patriots view Gilmore as a clear-cut No. 1 corner, as evidenced by the top-of-the-market, five-year, $65 million contract they were willing to pony up to sign him as an unrestricted free agent. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he has length, likes to play a physical style and runs well, so he gives coordinator Matt Patricia another option when matching up against some of the bigger receivers who have become more prevalent across the NFL. Pairing Gilmore with the ultra-competitive 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler could create a one-two combo that rivals some of the best in Bill Belichick's tenure.

Health report: From a physical standpoint, everything checked out in spring practices. From an overall "health" standpoint, perhaps the biggest question is with 2016 top draft pick Cyrus Jones (second round, No. 60), whose struggles as a returner led to his being inactive for Super Bowl LI. He later said that he didn't feel like he was part of the team. From a mentality standpoint, can Jones return to the approach that made him a notable prospect coming out of Alabama?

Who is in the slot? One of the more notable developments from spring practices was the rise of Jonathan Jones, the 2016 undrafted free agent from Auburn. Jones was a core special-teams player as a rookie and has a chance to expand his defensive role, as he took plenty of reps alongside Gilmore and Butler.

Rowe's playing time will affect trade. Rowe, who was acquired in a September trade with the Eagles, joins Gilmore as the team's bigger corner. That showed up in Super Bowl LI, when he was covering Julio Jones at times. If Rowe plays more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps, the Patriots will surrender a third-round pick to the Eagles in 2018. If he plays less than 50 percent, the Patriots will give up a fourth-rounder as part of that trade.

Rookie report: Killings, Moore, Thomas and Likely were all signed as free agents after the draft. Killings received $31,000 in guaranteed money, which was the most among the group.

Stat check: Butler's playing time percentage the past two seasons: 98.8 and 96.7 percent.

Quote of note: "Malcolm's really competitive. It really bothers him when a guy catches a ball on him, and that's the kind of attitude you want to have from a defensive back. When they do catch it, they want to make a real hard tackle and kind of make the guy pay for those yards that he got. Malcolm's a good tackler. Really, he's a tough kid. That competitiveness and then when you match him up with another real competitive guy, like a Steve Smith, for example, a guy like that, you get a war. But I love Malcolm's competitiveness. I love the way he competes and not just for the ball in the passing game, but the tackle to kind of hit the other guy harder than the other guy hits him, that kind of aggressiveness." -- Bill Belichick, on Butler, in December 2016