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At this point in offseason, where are Patriots personnel priorities? 04.04.14 at 9:55 pm ET
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Will Smith remains a free agent possibility for the Patriots. (AP)

Will Smith remains a free agent possibility for the Patriots. (AP)

With the offseason now one-third of the way done — and most of free agency now complete — the Patriots still have to address a few specific areas of need as part of the team-building process. Here’s a look at four personnel questions that have to be dealt with between now and the start of training camp.

Backup linebacker: Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher departed as free agents this offseason, with Spikes heading to Buffalo and Fletcher signing with Tampa Bay. Neither were starters, but over the last two seasons, both were called upon to play significant snaps for the Patriots. As a result, New England is a little thin when it comes to their linebacker depth. Currently on the roster, the Patriots have a few possibilities when it comes to backing up the expected starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, including Steve Beauharnais, who just finished his rookie season. But their pursuit of veteran free agent Wesley Woodyard was likely a sign they believe they need more help when it comes to depth at the spot.

Strong safety: Steve Gregory was cut loose earlier this offseason, and Adrian Wilson was released on Friday. And while the Patriots did bring back Patrick Chung on Thursday, there’s some uncertainty as to what New England plans on doing at the position. Two things to remember: one, the Patriots like their defensive backs to be versatile, and so shuffling DBs from one spot to another wouldn’t be a surprise. And two, on that same vein, there are some possibilities on the roster, including Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, the latter of whom has been the subject of much speculation this offseason when it comes to a possible move to free safety. In addition, there’s Tavon Wilson, who slid down the depth chart in 2013 to more of a special teams role, one that’s also occupied by fellow safeties Kanorris Davis and Nate Ebner. (And there’s always the possibility that Gregory could return on a reworked deal — he said this week despite the fact that he was cut by New England, “it would definitely be a place I would love to go back to.”) Regardless of whether or not New England decides to address the position in the draft, right now, it’s shaping up to be one of the more intriguing camp battles this spring and summer.

Situational pass rusher: The Patriots were believed to be at least partially in the mix for Jared Allen in free agency before he signed with the Bears, and while New England does currently have youngsters Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan on the roster as backup defensive ends, it’s a fair dropoff at this point from the starting duo of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. In terms of free agents who could still be on the market, Will Smith remains a possibility, but his recent injury woes leave him questionable at this stage of his career. When it comes to other in-house possibilities, Andre Carter could return for at least part of the season if New England struggles to find help — he sure sounds open to the possibility of returning. In addition, Armond Armstead could also be in the mix as an interior pass rushing presence at some point if he ever does get healthy. It’s also expected that if veteran Tommy Kelly can stay on the field, he’ll offer some support as another interior pass rushing presence in 2014.

Depth at tight end and running back: While New England appears to be set when it comes to starters at the two positions, it could really use some depth at both spots, and both will likely be addressed in some form or fashion come the second and/or third day of the draft. Despite the fact the Patriots might be more inclined to move away from the two-tight end sets they ran over the last few seasons, another tight end to compliment Rob Gronkowski could be had in this draft, especially given the fact that this year appears to be a pretty good one for tight ends. In addition, the fact that the Patriots made a serious play for veteran free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew could be taken as a sign they feel like they need someone to replace LeGarrette Blount in the backfield.

Read More: Adrian Wilson, Andre Carter, Armond Armstead, Brandon Spikes
Patrick Chung: Chance to return to Patriots ‘like a blessing’ at 12:10 am ET
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Patrick Chung returns to the Patriots. (AP)

Patrick Chung returns to the Patriots. (AP)

One year later, veteran safety Patrick Chung is set to return to the Patriots.

Chung, who was signed as a free agent by the Eagles last season after four seasons in New England, was re-signed by the Patriots on Thursday. The 26-year-old, who was a second-round pick of New England in 2009, said the chance to get back to Foxboro “was like a blessing.”

“I’€™m glad to be back,” he said Thursday on a conference call with the media. “It’€™s like family here. It feels like home. I’€™m glad to be back. I love the fans, love the coaches, love the environment, love the city.”

Chung’s finest season with the Patriots came in 2010 when he played in 14 games (13 starts) and finished the year with 96 tackles (72 solo), nine passes defensed and three interceptions, all career-highs. Following the 2012 season, he ended up signing a three-year, $10 million free agent deal with the Eagles. In Philly last year, he played in 12 games and ended with 59 tackles, but struggled at times playing for his old college coach Chip Kelly with the Eagles.

New England figured to be in the market for some safety help when Steve Gregory was cut loose earlier this offseason, and while he won’t be guaranteed his old roster spot, Chung could provide some depth for the Patriots secondary.

“I don’€™t feel I’€™m any different,” Chung said. “I’€™m just going to continue to keep working, keep getting better, whatever I can do to help the team, whatever role I might have to play. I feel I’€™m the same. The scheme, I guess, would fit a lot better. I’€™ve had a lot of conversations so I just feel like this would be the best fit right now. Plus, I’€™m really glad to be back too. I’€™ve missed you guys.

“I don’€™t have any expectations,” he added. “Whatever Bill [Belichick] need me to do, this team, I’€™m going to do it. Regardless if it’€™s special team or it’€™s defense, whatever my role is here, I’€™m OK with that. This is where I want to be, so that’€™s good for me. I’€™m not worried about all the distractions, ‘€˜Am I going to be playing, am I going to be doing this?’€™ Whatever I can do to help the team win, then I’€™m good.”

Here are more highlights of Chung’s Thursday afternoon Q&A with the media.
Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, pat chung, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory
Patriots sign S Patrick Chung 04.03.14 at 1:54 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Thursday they have re-signed Patrick Chung. Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team:

Chung, 26, spent four seasons with New England (2009-12) after joining the team as a second-round draft pick (34th overall) out of Oregon in 2009. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an unrestricted free agent on March 12, 2013. He was released by Philadelphia on March 11.

Chung has played in 62 NFL games with 40 starts and has registered 291 total tackles, seven interceptions, 22 passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He has played in eight postseason games with five starts and has added 23 total tackles.

Chung played in 50 games with 30 starts during his first four seasons with New England and accumulated 235 total tackles, seven interceptions and 19 passes defensed. He blocked a punt and a field goal in the same game at Miami on Oct. 4, 2010, and finished that season with a career-best 89 total tackles.

Last season in Philadelphia, Chung played in 12 games with 10 starts and finished with 56 total tackles, three passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He started in the Eagles postseason game vs. New Orleans on Jan. 4, and finished with four total tackles.

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Resetting the depth chart in Patriots secondary 03.17.13 at 1:24 pm ET
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Devin McCourty

Devin McCourty

There have been some notable moves so far this offseason for the New England secondary. With free agency continuing and the draft now just over a month away, the Patriots can still add to the defensive back spot. But right now — with the addition of veteran safety Adrian Wilson, the re-signing of cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and the departure of Patrick Chung — here’s a quick look at how the depth chart for the Patriots’ secondary shakes out at this point:

Outside cornerbacks
Talib: The 27-year-old, who will return for his first full season with the Patriots, projects as the No. 1 corner for New England in 2013.
Alfonzo Dennard: The Nebraska product, who played very well as a rookie last season in New England, faces something of a murky future, but if he’s available, he should go into the 2013 season as a starting corner.
Ras-I Dowling: The injury-plagued Dowling enters his third season in New England with a lot to prove. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an important part of the secondary — the problem is he hasn’t been healthy all that often. He’s played just nine games in two years.

Slot cornerbacks/special teamers
Arrington: After the acquisition of Talib, Arrington moved back inside to the slot — his more natural position — and flourished. Should start 2013 as the leader in the clubhouse for this spot once again.
Malcolm Williams: Primarily a special teamer, Williams provides depth at the defensive back position.

Devin McCourty: The lead dog in the secondary. He admitted late last season the transition from young guy to leader took some time, but he goes into 2013 as the No. 1 free safety on the team.
Steve Gregory: Gregory started slow and had issues staying on the field early in the season, but he and McCourty played well together at the end of the season.
Adrian Wilson: A bigger safety who can contribute down in the box, one of the early position battles worth watching could be between Wilson and Gregory. While Gregory and McCourty played well together, Wilson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) is more of a big, strong safety when it comes to overall body type than Gregory (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) and could swipe some snaps from Gregory as a result, depending on the defensive game plans.
Tavon Wilson: Wilson started strong as a rookie — four interceptions in his first 10 games — but the acquisition of Aqib Talib affected his playing time maybe more than anyone else — the trade for Talib meant the Patriots moved Devin McCourty from corner to safety, and left Wilson on the sidelines. He projects as a backup right now.
Nate Ebner: Ebner did see some significant snaps on defense at the start of the season, but made his niche as a special teamer. Currently figures as someone who can provide depth at the strong safety spot, not unlike Matthew Slater.

Read More: Adrian Wilson, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington
Patrick Chung signs with Eagles 03.12.13 at 8:35 pm ET
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Patrick Chung

Patrick Chung

Defensive back Patrick Chung signed with the Eagles on Tuesday, ending a four-year career with the Patriots.

The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder, who will be reunited with his former college coach, Chip Kelly, had issues with injury in his time in New England, struggling to stay on the field and starting 30 out of a possible 64 regular-season games with the Patriots. His best season was 2010, when he started 13 games (a career-high) and finished with 96 tackles (72 solo), three interceptions and nine passes defensed (all career-bests).

Chung is the second member of New England’s draft class to depart — offensive lineman Donald Thomas signed with the Colts earlier in the day.

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Devin McCourty explains why he feels so comfortable at safety 01.10.13 at 7:11 pm ET
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Devin McCourty has his sights set on bring stability to the Patriots secondary. (Mike Petraglia/

Devin McCourty has his sights set on bring stability to the Patriots secondary. (Mike Petraglia/

FOXBORO — It’s arguably the most important move of the season for the Patriots.

Trading for cornerback Aqib Talib and moving Devin McCourty from corner to safety.

Since that deal at the trade deadline in early November, the Patriots defense – particularly the secondary – has looked like a new group, a group playing with a great deal of confidence.

On Thursday, McCourty shed some light on what the transition from corner to safety was like for him and whether the move came naturally.

“Not at first,” McCourty said. “Like any time you change positions, you have to get reps and get used to it. But last year, moving a little bit of safety on pass downs, I think the biggest thing was just adjusting to playing it every down of the game. Once I got more and more reps in practice and then actually being out there in the game, I felt like I started to get a good feel for it. I was able to make a couple plays. Now I feel that I’ve gained a good amount of confidence in playing either position. Now it’s just going out there and playing.”

Starting with the Jets game at home on Oct. 21, McCourty was the starting safety out of necessity when Steve Gregory was out with a hip injury and Patrick Chung was sidelined with a shoulder injury. But then Talib was acquired, allowing McCourty to stay at safety. McCourty played eight straight games at safety before moving back to cornerback for the final two games of the season with the knee injury to Alfonzo Dennard.

Against Houston, he had a key first-quarter interception that changed the tone of the game early on. He read Matt Schaub’s eyes over the middle and picked him off at the goal line as the Texans were threatening to tie the game, 7-7.

“Just catching the ball,” McCourty recalled. “The biggest thing is just trying to read the quarterback and go from there. It sounds simple, but at different times against quarterbacks in this league, sometimes they do a good job of looking you off and doing different things like that. Just trying to read the quarterback. Bill [Belichick] is big on telling on us, ‘Just do your job’. I felt like that was a play where they threw the ball down the middle, I’m supposed to be in the middle of the field and just made a field.”

He had another interception the next week against the 49ers as the Patriots wiped out a 28-point second-half deficit. McCourty finished 2012 with a team-leading five picks.

What’s been the key? McCourty says understanding the mentality of a safety and quarterbacking the secondary.
Adding to that confidence were

“I mean that’s one thing,” he said. “But I think you also put the communication level and the importance is way greater at safety. At corner where you’re only one side of the field, you’re not asked to communicate as much to the rest of the defense as you are at safety.

“With [Jerod] Mayo making so many calls, he has to really worry about handling the linebackers and the front four. I think once you talk about the secondary, the safeties have to worry about handling everything with the coverage aspect. When you’re at safety, you have to really make sure everyone gets the calls and everyone is listening. Whenever I’m back at that position, I put a lot of that on myself. Along with Steve [Gregory] and Pat [Chung] being back there, just making sure everyone gets what we’re doing.

Here is the remainder of Thursday’s presser with Devin McCourty: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, houston texans
Vince Wilfork learns that ‘protecting’ teammates costs $30,000 12.28.12 at 4:52 pm ET
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Vince Wilfork was more up in arms about a hit to his teammate than he was the fine that was handed out for it. (AP)

Vince Wilfork was more up in arms about a hit to his teammate than he was the fine that was handed out for it. (AP)

FOXBORO — Say this much, Vince Wilfork couldn’t have been very surprised when he got the envelope from the NFL on Friday.

The perennial pro bowl nose tackle was informed that he would be $30,000 lighter for his act of team unity last Sunday in Jacksonville.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Patrick Chung picked off Chad Henne at the goal line and raced 28 yards on the ensuing return. Toward the end of the return, Jaguars offensive lineman Steve Vallos drilled Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott from behind with a forearm.

Wilfork retaliated with a similar hit. Wilfork admitted after the game that he expected some sort of financial discipline from the league for the hit.

“That was protecting my teammate, plain and simple,” Wilfork said. “You’re not going to sit right in front of me and take a cheap shot at my guy with me standing behind you, that won’t fly. Plain and simple. I’ll probably get penalized for it, I did, but at the same time, you’ll never see me letting my teammates just get cheap-shotted like that with me standing right there.

“It is what it is, it’s part of football. Some people might not like it, some people might like it, but I’m going to do everything I can to protect my teammates,” he continued. “And I was protecting my teammate. But it is what it is, and I don’t think twice about it. If it happened again, I’d protect my teammate the best way I could.”

On Friday, the NFL deemed the hit “unnecessary roughness for a forearm to the back of the head” after Wilfork took exception with the way Vallos hit Patriots defensive end Trevor Scott just moments earlier on the return. Vallos was not flagged but Wilfork and the Patriots were assessed a 15-yard penalty.

Ironically, Chung was not fined for his hit to the head of Cecil Shorts III during Jacksconville’s final drive. Four different flags were thrown in Chung’s direction when he dropped his shoulder into Shorts with Devin McCourty already applying the tackle. Chung was assessed a 15-yard penalty for a hit on a defenseless receiver but the NFL confirmed Friday that the hit did not warrant an additional fine.

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Read More: Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, nfl, Patrick Chung
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