|Countdown to camp: Safeties||07.28.15 at 6:43 am ET|
As training camp approaches, we’ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2015 Patriots. We started with the wide receivers and moved on to the tight ends, offensive line, quarterback and running backs. After a check on the cornerbacks, here’s a look at the safties.
THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Unlike the cornerbacks, the safeties seem to be as close to a sure thing that there is on defense. That starts with Devin McCourty, fresh from signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal, with $28.5 million guaranteed. Since moving from corner to free safety full-time in 2013, the 27-year-old Rutgers product has been a staple in the Patriots secondary. He has taken over calling all coverages and, perhaps just as importantly, providing leadership in the secondary. Darrelle Revis often pointed to McCourty’s direction and calmness as a reason for the secondary coming together the way it did in 2014.
2. Patrick Chung has emerged as a solid piece in his second go-around in New England. When Chung left after the 2012 season, there were those in New England who openly wondered exactly what the Eagles were thinking. That thought grew around the NFL when Chung struggled in Philadelphia in his lone season as a free safety, the Eagles cut him loose. Bill Belichick saw this as a chance to bring back a player with understanding of his system. He made one tweak. He gradually eased Chung back into the defense in training camp and preseason as a strong safety, a position he hadn’t played on a regular basis since his second season in 2010. It paid big dividends last year, as he made 62 tackles, starting 15 of his 16 games at strong safety. With Revis on board, Belichick was able to take a lot of deep zone pass defense responsibilities off his plate and play him in the box. There were several cases where Chung lined up as a linebacker to support in run situations. He was sixth on the team in defensive snaps in 2014.
3. Versatility is the name of the game. Belichick has always asked his young safeties learning the system to earn their roster spots by showing they can fill numerous roles, i.e. special teams. This is how Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson have hung around so long, especially Wilson. There have been times where Wilson’s days seemed numbered given his inability to earn regular defensive snaps. But that’s not where Wilson has shown his true value. “The more you can do, the better you’re going to be,” Wilson said after being drafted by Belichick in 2012. “I just come in, play special teams, be the best whatever position they play me as; just try to be the best I can. I love to play special teams. It’s a part of the game. I played it in college, I love to do it.”
|Julian Edelman lands at No. 91 on NFL Network’s ‘Top 100′ countdown||05.07.15 at 1:12 pm ET|
In non-Deflategate news, Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman came in at No. 91 on the NFL Network’s “Top 100″ countdown on Wednesday night.
Edelman is the first New England player on the list, which is put together through a vote of the players. In the segment, several players were asked about Edelman’s abilities.
“Tom Brady makes receivers. When Tom needs a play, he’s going to Edelman,” said Pittsburgh’s Ike Taylor. “‘I’m going to wait until he gets open, I’m going to wait … he’s open.’ Bam. We got action.”
“Someone just called him the hardest cover in football. His quickness is crazy,” said his teammate, fullback James Develin. “It doesn’t get much tougher than Julian Edelman, The guy takes huge hits, shakes them off and keeps on ticking.”
“You can’t cover him, man. It’s hard to cover him, one on one,” said teammate and safety Patrick Chung, who called him “crazy.”
“He’s always making those plays that normal players don’t make,” said Broncos defensive end Antonio Smith. “That’s what makes Edelman one of those guys that stands out.”
This is the first appearance on the Top 100 list for Edelman. Check out the full segment on him here.
|Patrick Chung has nothing but respect for Philip Rivers and his trash talking: ‘I like it’||12.06.14 at 12:10 pm ET|
SAN DIEGO — Philip Rivers has a well-earned reputation for trash talking on the field.
He also has a reputation for getting angry and upset with his own team and himself when things don’t go well.
“Everybody talks trash but I like it,” Chung said. “It keeps the game competitive and he’s a tough guy. He’s a competitor and I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. He works hard and talks a good game. I like it.
“He’s a competitor. He’s very passionate about what he does. He makes good plays, he’s fired up. He has bad plays, he’s pissed off. So, that’s what you want in a quarterback and we’ve got to go out and stop this guy.”
Rivers has been doing more of the positive trash-talking of late, leading the Chargers on a three-game winning streak that has them just a game behind Denver in the tight AFC West. He has five touchdowns and two picks in the streak and led the Chargers on a last-minute touchdown drive last week at Baltimore.
“He’s good and he’s tough, he’s tough,” Chung said of the quarterback that has often been characterized as an offensive player with a defensive mindset. “He can make some plays and has some guys he can get the ball to so we’ve got to hold up our end on that.”
While Rivers is very mobile inside the pocket, Chung, who has played primarily in run support this season, knows Rivers can extend plays with his legs and take off.
“I would put him in that category,” Chung said. “He can be in the pocket, he can drop back and make some good throws, or he can extend, throw on the run. He has guys that are trained to get the ball. We’ve got to contain him.
“They have a lot of good running backs. When you can run the ball, you can also pass it. We’ve got to play a complimentary defense just to try and take away everything. They’re going to make their plays. They’re a good team.”
Chung, like most of the Patriots, has enjoyed the week in San Diego but says it’s all business leading up to the final hours before Sunday night.
“[It’s been] good weather, but we’re here to play a game,” Chung said. “It’s kind of a business trip. We’ve experienced some nice weather out here and the nice San Diego city but the game’s coming close so we’ve got to get ready to go.”
|Patrick Chung making most of second chance with Patriots||11.04.14 at 10:15 pm ET|
When Patrick Chung signed with the Patriots in early April there weren’t very high expectations based on the way his first tenure with New England went from 2009-12.
However, Chung has made the most of his second opportunity with the Patriots — starting all nine games at safety and playing a major role in the Patriots’ defense, which currently is allowing 22 points a game, good for 12th in the NFL.
The 2009 second-round pick by the Patriots was not re-signed after his rookie contract in 2012 and instead signed with the Eagles. Things didn’t work out the way he would have wanted there — playing in 12 games, finishing with 43 tackles in 2013 before being released after just one season.
The Patriots wasted no time giving Chung another chance — re-signing him just a month after he was released by the Eagles.
“I thought he played pretty well for us in the time that he was here,” coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call. “I think kind of the circumstances of the 2012 season just didn’t work out as well as probably we all hoped they would for a combination of reasons.
“Pat and I talked about that last year after he was released from Philadelphia. Pat and I talked about that. We had a long conversation about a lot of things. Not saying it was anybody’s fault, it was just one of those things that didn’t work out. But we both felt that we’d want to try to give it another shot. We were able to come to an agreement on that, contractually.”
Chung had an outstanding spring and training camp — looking better each day – and won the starting safety job next to Devin McCourty. He’s continued to make the most of his second opportunity, as per Pro Football Focus he has played 486 of a possible 636 snaps (76 percent) through nine games.
|What to watch for in Thursday’s Patriots-Giants preseason finale||08.28.14 at 7:30 am ET|
Here are seven things we’ll be looking for Thursday night when the Patriots meet the Giants in the preseason finale for both teams.
WHO DOESN’T PLAY
When it comes to the preseason finale, it’s just as important to figure out who doesn’t play as opposed to who does play. As we detailed here, if you’re a starter — or even a veteran — and you find yourself on the field for anything more than 10-15 snaps on Thursday night, it’s a bad sign. (The only area where this might be an exception is along the interior of the offensive line, for reasons we will address shortly.) Based on the work the Patriots were able to put in last week against the Panthers when they looked mostly razor sharp on both sides of the ball, don’t expect many of the starters to see the field against the Giants, despite the fact that we know New York is going to roll out its starters for between 15-18 snaps.
A good chunk of this relates back to the first point — we know quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is going to start and get the bulk of the snaps. But given the fact that history tells us those who don’t play are likely to have a secure roster spot, we’ll be keeping an eye on a few first-year players and monitoring their playing time. Cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back James White have been among the rookies who have played well enough to land a roster spot over the course of the summer — if they end up sitting Thursday night, it’s a good bet they’ve made the roster.
Thursday will be the first professional start for Garoppolo, and he’ll get a chance to show what he can do against a No. 1 defense for the first time in the preseason. The New England coaching staff will be interested in seeing him in as many different situations as possible: two-minute, end-of-half, under pressure from a steady rush, as well as a potential four-minute offense situation. Everything is on the table when it comes to evaluating Garoppolo. From this viewpoint, Ryan Mallett still is the No. 2 quarterback on the roster, but the rookie will get his opportunity to show what he can do come Thursday evening in North Jersey.
|Patrick Chung is really happy to be back: ‘I love it… It’s home’||07.27.14 at 9:42 pm ET|
FOXBORO — No one is happier to be camping with the Patriots this summer than Patrick Chung.
The 26-year-old safety was allowed to walk after the 2012 season, his fourth in New England, and took a three-year, $10 million deal with Philadelphia in March 2013.
But after a disappointing first year, a season in which he suffered several injuries, lost his job to rookie Earl Wolff and never connected with new coach Chip Kelly, he was released in March. There were those who wondered who would want a safety who seemed on the outs, or at least out of chances in the NFL.
Enter the Patriots. Bill Belichick, who made the decision to let Steve Gregory walk, knew something about Chung that in his mind earned him another chance. Belichick offered Chung a one-year, $1.1 million deal based on his work ethic alone. Chung has been quietly making a good impression all over agin, working mainly with the second and third teams during the first four practices, with an occasional rep with the first unit and old friend Devin McCourty.
“I love it,” Chung told WEEI.com after Sunday’s rain-shortened practice. “Love it here. Culture is good here. Fans are good here. Coaches are good here. Locker room is good here. Food is good here. I like it here, man. It’s home.”
To McCourty, it’s just good to have a football brother next to him again on the field.
“It’s good because Pat is a true pro,” McCourty told WEEI.com. “He’s a guy that comes in every day ready to work. He understands the defense. I think he’s another model citizen for the younger guys, someone they can look at and model their game, model what he does to get ready for practice and get ready to know what he’s doing. It’s been great. He’s a friend mine who was here the whole time I was here. He experienced something different for a year and now he’s back.”
What specifically does Chung bring back to the Patriots and the secondary?
“Just his work ethic, whether it’s in the weight room and being one of the stronger guys or getting ready for practice, doing different things,” McCourty added. “A younger guy can come see him get in the hot tub, or I’ll do this before practice, just to make sure I’m ready. Not just stretch before practice and go. As you get in this league, you have different aches and pains you that you need to take care of on your own.”
While McCourty has passed Chung on the safety depth chart since his departure in 2012, Chung says not much else has changed since his first four-year tour in Foxboro.
“Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing,” Chung said. “Just work hard, stay out of trouble and take it day-by-day. Bill knows what he’s doing so pay attention.”
|At this point in offseason, where are Patriots personnel priorities?||04.04.14 at 9:55 pm ET|
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.