Patrick Chung hit leaves Aaron Hernandez seeing STARs
|08.15.11 at 8:54 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Entering his third season in the NFL, all with the Patriots, Patrick Chung has been given a lot of responsibility and it’s not always gone has he had hoped or expected.
Take last January for example, when he called for a fake punt just before halftime in the AFC Divisional playoff against the Jets. The Patriots came up short when he called the audible and stood up like a 15-year pro afterward, taking responsibility for it.
But that was hardly the first time the Patriots had placed the University of Oregon product in a critical position on the field. As a matter of fact, he showed them in his second season that he could handle a lot by playing a unique position on defense.
It’s called the STAR spot on the field where a defender plays the receiver in the slot. What makes this position so very important is what the coach – namely Bill Belichick – expects from the player.
“You have to be able to do a lot of stuff,” Chung said following Monday’s practice. “You have to be able to cover, cover tight ends, cover receivers, blitz, play zone coverage. You kind of have to do everything. And you have to know the defense.”
“It’s the inside position that plays against the slot receiver,” added Patriots personnel director Nick Caserio on Monday. “So there’s a number of different qualities and skills that that player needs to possess, so there’s a number of players that work in that position here in camp and players that played that position. Looking at Tampa Bay, I’d say Ronde Barber is one of the better stars that actually plays in the league because of his combination of blitzing, his instincts, his ball skills.”
On Monday, Chung re-introduced himself to Aaron Hernandez while playing the spot and drilled him to the ground in a hit that drew oohs and ahhs from the onlooking Patriots and support personnel around the field inside Dana Farber Field House. Hernandez held onto the ball but Chung made his statement. It’s a statement that Brandon Meriweather has made just as loud on another tight end.
Remember last October in the game against the Ravens at Gillette Stadium? Meriweather laid out Todd Heap by launching himself in a hit that carried with it a hefty $50,000 fine. But it’s that kind of hit and athleticism that’s also earned Meriweather the trust of Belichick to play one of the most involved positions on defense.
“For me and Brandon, you have to know the defense as a whole,” Chung said. “As a safety, you have to know what the STAR is doing. So that is why coach can put us down there and play STAR. You have to be a very athletic person. You’re on an island right there in the middle of the field.”
The consensus was that Meriweather, prior to that hit on Heap, had been playing the most fundamentally-sound football of his career, especially on the tackling side. Will he be able to get back to that form and will that keep him on the roster?
“He’s a player that had a lot of versatility coming out of Miami,” Caserio said. “He played some corner, played some safety, actually played a little bit of star. We’ve tried him in a number of different roles. Brandon has been a productive player since he’s been here. He’s had production, he’s got a lot of experience in our system, he’s a talented player. Is it perfect? No. Is he working hard to get better?
“That’s the most important thing. I think the biggest thing is each year is kind of its own entity, so the most important thing is you’re just looking for improvement over the course of time and I think Brandon has improved since he’s been here and continues to improve and I think all players, regardless of their status, regardless of how much experience they have, there’s always an opportunity to improve, and I think that’s the most important thing for them to do.”
Chung and Meriweather are primarily known as safeties but with a lot more responsibility thrown their way when the situation calls for it.
“Brandon, the corners, it’s all about coaching it right and taking the coaching and applying it on the field,” Chung said. “That’s pretty much all it is. Just being focused and taking what coach says and doing to the best of your ability.
“You get to do everything. You’re not just locked in. You get to do everything. It’s a fun position. But they have me back there at safety and that’s a fun position, too. I love being back there, right next to Meriweather. Let those guys handle that stuff and we’ll take care of stuff in the back.”
Though it taught him a valuable lesson about hanging onto the ball after two fumbles last Thursday, Aaron Hernandez probably wouldn’t mind Chung hanging back in the secondary a little more during practice.