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NFL's CB1? Patriots' Stephon Gilmore lets his play do the talking

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ATLANTA -- You can stand directly in front of Stephon Gilmore and struggle to hear what he says. Heck, there are days where his voice is barely a whisper. The New England Patriots cornerback is the very definition of soft-spoken.

"That's just who I am," he said. "Who I was raised to be."

A first-team All-Pro this season, Gilmore is the antithesis of the modern-day cornerback. He's not a look at me player. He doesn't pound his chest after making a play, or dance. He just retreats to the huddle, gets the call and tries to win the next play.

"He does his talking on the field, and it's very, very loud," said fellow starting corner Jason McCourty during Monday's Super Bowl LIII Opening Night in Atlanta. "As you can see throughout the course of this season, as a defense, we've leaned on him a lot to do a lot. He's shown up each and every Thursday, Monday or Sunday -- whichever day -- and has performed at peak levels. Like you said, he's a soft-spoken guy, but the more you talk to him, the more you get out of him."

Maybe that's true, but I had a hard time wrangling something beyond the surface about the player. In fact, when you ask Gilmore's teammates for a funny story about the 28-year-old, they have a difficult time finding an answer.

"I can't think of one right now," struggled safety Patrick Chung.

"Get back to me in a bit," said cornerback Jonathan Jones.

"No, I don't have one," laughed receiver Phillip Dorsett.

I told Patriots wideout Chris Hogan that I was 0-for-4 on getting players to spin a yarn about Gilmore. His response: "You're 0-for-5."

But ask players on the defense to tell you what stands out about Gilmore, and they all talk about his preparation and his competitiveness.

"He doesn't even let guys catch the ball in walk-through," McCourty said. "That's kind of his mindset and his demeanor. He goes out there, he takes the field, and his one job is to shut whoever he's guarding down, and that's something that he's done on a week-in, week-out basis for us this season."

"He's extremely patient," Hogan said. "He'll never bite on your first move. He's a real physical guy. He's super strong. When you look at him, you might not know that, but he's a real physical corner. When he gets his hands on you, it could be trouble."

"He's got a lead-by-example thing going," noted defensive end Trey Flowers. "He works hard. He takes pride in his technique, his fundamentals. It works for him."

Indeed, shortly after the Patriots won the AFC title game in Kansas City, Gilmore had his iPad in hand, already studying the Rams, who had defeated the Saints earlier that day to advance to the Super Bowl.

"You can never be too prepared," noted Gilmore. "I feel like I have to prove myself every day. I take that mindset everywhere."

That trait is one of many that stand out to Gilmore's position coach, Josh Boyer.

"Steph's been very consistent," he said. "He works very hard at his craft to try and improve. The amount of time that he puts in to study, the work he puts in out in the field -- there's a lot of little things behind the scenes that he's really working on to get better. Some people who have had the success he's had might say, 'I got it; I've arrived.' Not him. He keeps pushing."

His size, strength and improving ball skills have allowed the Patriots to turn Gilmore loose on a fleet of top receivers this season, from the Texans' DeAndre Hopkins in Week 1 to the Steelers' Antonio Brown in December to Travis Kelce during the second half of the win over the Chiefs.

"I feel like I can cover anyone," he told me before defaulting to his routine answer. "Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll do. They're smart. They know what's best."

Now, that's not to say friends and family haven't encouraged Gilmore to be more verbose.

"My wife tells me to show out more, and I'll talk sometimes for a play or two, but then I'm afraid it might mess me up, so I stop," Gilmore admitted to me.

So, when teammates proclaimed the former South Carolina star the best cornerback in the league, Gilmore flashed a thin smile.

"Film don't lie," he said.

Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter @MikeGiardi.

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