FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots will reacquaint with old friend Stephon Gilmore on Sunday when they visit the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The Life After Gilmore era, which officially began Oct. 6 when they traded him to his hometown Panthers, remains a work in progress.

Of all the positions on the Patriots’ roster, cornerback is arguably the thinnest.

Gilmore’s presence would have altered the outlook dramatically, but the combination of his quad injury and $7 million base salary that he openly spoke about as being less than what he was worth ultimately led to him being traded.

J.C. Jackson has assumed the No. 1 role, but on Wednesday he didn’t practice due to illness, further highlighting how tenuous things can become with one unexpected absence.

Six-year veteran Jalen Mills and 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams are next on the depth chart on the outside, with rookie Shaun Wade possibly on the cusp of making his debut Sunday after being acquired for a fifth-round pick in September from the Baltimore Ravens and later missing three weeks with a concussion. Special teams ace Justin Bethel is also an option in a pinch.

Then in the slot, second-year player Myles Bryant has stepped in after valuable cog Jonathan Jones was lost for the season in Week 6 with a shoulder injury.

“Jon’s a big loss for us. Collectively it’s been a little bit different each week, how the plan has worked out,” coach Bill Belichick said, noting that the top three safeties — Devin McCourty, Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips — are tied together with the corners. “That group spends a lot of time together. They work hard and compete well.”

Said Phillips: “It’s all about just being comfortable playing with each other. We had Steph here for so long. Steph and J.C. worked together for a few years, so they kind of knew how each other worked.”

Now it’s Jackson and Mills, and McCourty shared how he views the duo.

“It doesn’t take long to see what type of competitor [Mills] is, and how fiery and feisty he is. I’d say our group is just a fiery bunch of guys,” he said. “Obviously JMills being the old guy of the group who has played a bunch of different positions, and then with J.C., to me, he has grown and I call him ‘Veteran Jerald.’ He’s taken the next step.”

McCourty said he’s also seen growth from Williams, noting that he works as hard as any player on the team, and looks forward to seeing Wade integrated into the mix.

To protect themselves after Jones went on IR, the Patriots added veteran cornerbacks Brian Poole (slot) and De’Vante Bausby to the practice squad last week. They join slot corner D’Angelo Ross, who is now in his third year with the Patriots after joining them as an undrafted free agent out of New Mexico in 2019.

While more vulnerable than they would probably like to be, the corners played one of their best games of the season in last Sunday’s 27-24 win against the Los Angeles Chargers. They faced dangerous receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams with more of a zone-heavy approach than they had played previously.

Part of that could have been tied to the loss of Jones, whose value to the defense might be overlooked.

“You lose a whole lot more than a football player. You lose a leader. You lose a veteran. You lose a guy who is really a Swiss Army knife within our defense. Jon Jones for me is like my second coach down there on the field,” cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino said.

“He’s everything you look for in a Patriot — he’s tough, smart and dependable. Last year, I said he’d go out and play with one arm for us. Honestly, he did in [Week 6].”

Enter the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Bryant, who has earned Pellegrino’s respect since he joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Washington in 2020. Bryant jarred the ball free from the Chargers’ Allen for an incompletion on a key play in the third quarter Sunday, just as the game was turning in the Patriots’ favor.

“He’s been ready since Day 1 here. He’s always prepared like he was going to play in the game,” Pellegrino said. “He’s a guy you love to coach. Asks all the right questions.”

In Belichick’s 22 years as head coach, the Patriots have won championships with a patchwork approach at cornerback, sometimes turning to receivers as cover men in an emergency (e.g. Troy Brown, Julian Edelman).

They aren’t at that point yet, but after trading Gilmore to the Panthers and losing Jones to IR, they are living on the edge.