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Two defensive position battles to watch when the Patriots put on the pads Monday

The Patriots know at least one of their starting outside cornerbacks.

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Veteran Jalen Mills, entering the second season of a four-year contract, will retain his starting spot from 2021. But Mills’s job will certainly be more challenging because he’ll no longer be playing opposite J.C. Jackson, who left this offseason for a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Chargers.

The Patriots picked up Jackson as an undrafted free agent in 2018, a year after they shelled out big bucks to sign Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal. Both players established themselves as lockdown corners, with Gilmore winning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2019 and Jackson earning second-team All-Pro honors last season.

Mills proved to be serviceable in his No. 2 role last season, but will have big shoes to fill in man coverage with Gilmore and Jackson gone. If he draws the other team’s best receiver, as his predecessors did, he’ll line up against the likes of Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and Ja’Marr Chase. A tall task, to say the least.

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