Even in the moments after his interception in Atlanta, Gilmore said one of his goals was to continue “learning.” It’s not faux-humility, though. It’s genuine, and he admits that he’s learned what it takes to be able to see things like that.
“I see the game way better now than when I first got in the league,” he said of his preparation. “I look at it from a whole different perspective. I think the more you play, the more you see, and the more it allows you to make plays. Watching film, you picture yourself out there and think about what you’re going to do to make plays for the team.”
And he’s definitely helping the entire team, not just the defensive backs room.
Carter’s like a lot of the rest of them, still sort of amazed that the 2019 NFL defensive player of the year is walking among them, that a legend is now a peer. So when Gilmore walked up to him in that same quiet manner to introduce himself, Carter took the opportunity to learn from one of the masters, to see how Stephon Gilmore prepares to be Stephon Gilmore.
“He can teach you how he’s breaking down film,” Carter said. “How he’s running routes for guys before it’s happening. He’s seen it throughout the week with his preparation. He told me how he studies certain plays, and teams. It’s being able to pick up on little things in the short time he’s been here. Obviously, he hasn’t lost a step, he’s still a great player, and I just think he takes our defense to a whole other level.”
But the way he learns and teaches also makes it easier for the coaches, who are teaching an entire team.
Coaches say things. Seeing Gilmore do them in real-time on the practice field makes the lessons real to players.
“It absolutely helps. It also adds validity to what you’re saying, because he’s getting that done,” Simmons said. “You talk about different route concepts, the younger guys have seen the concepts and the things we’re trying to get done. He’s actually doing his first day here.
“Understanding concepts, routes, sticks, stems, it’s part of his game. To see him execute it on the field, it helps us as coaches.”
Taylor and Carter agreed, mentioning things they’ve picked up from watching Gilmore practice.
“Watching him do it makes things simpler sometimes,” Taylor said. “Coaches can say a whole bunch of words, and you’re trying to do it. But you see him do it, and it’s like, ‘Oh that’s what it looks like, that’s how it’s supposed to go.'”
“It’s definitely better, when your teammates hold you accountable,” Carter said. “Sometimes as players we’re stubborn. You hear from your coaches and you’re like, ‘Oh man, I don’t need you to tell me that, I’ve got it, I’ve got it.’ But when it’s coming from your peers, you want to listen more, you know it’s coming from a good place, and we all want the same things.”
And that might be the biggest benefit of having Stephon Gilmore here.
As talented as he is, as much as he’s done in his career, he walked in the door talking about learning rather than teaching.
“Without a doubt, that’s huge, because he doesn’t have to,” Simmons said. “But we knew what we were getting. We knew we were getting a pro. And the biggest thing about a pro, those guys just want to win. So whatever it takes to win to help this system, he’s going to do.
“It’s been good for the young players to see that.”
Because Gilmore has been willing to share what he sees. And when they see it unfold the way he’s described it, they realize they’re in the presence of someone special.
“I think he has learned football,” Snow said. “The people in his background, and I don’t know who all is in his background, but they’ve done a great job of preparing him to play. But he understands formations and routes and what type of routes you get by splits, and he’s been trained really well. He’s put a lot of hard work into what he’s doing. It’s not all just instincts. Now there are some great instincts in there, and he’s got great movement skills. But he’s also worked on his movement skills. Obviously, he has some traits that allow that.
“I think he’s made himself a great player.”