CHANDLER, Ariz. — Patrick Chung signed a one-year prove-it deal over the offseason. Needless to say, he proved it.
Chung was locked up for another three years when he signed an $8.2 million extension in January, nearly tripling his 2014 $1.1 million salary. Chung once looked like just another disappointing second-round draft pick by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, but after a year off in 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles, he has rejuvenated his career and is a key member of New England’s Super Bowl XLIX defense.
With the new lease in New England, Chung also has taken on a new role, which partially explains his newfound success. Chung was stuck playing free safety, where he was prone to show up late on deep passes from the opposing team, during his first Patriots stint. It wasn’t Chung’s fault that it wasn’t his best role, and it was a rare glimpse at a time when Belichick didn’t put a player in his best position to succeed.
The Patriots lacked a true free safety, so Chung was burdened with the role.
Now the Patriots have All-Pro Devin McCourty manning the deep half of the field, which allows Chung to play inside the box, where he excelled in college at Oregon.
“Yeah, it’s good to have him back there, man,” Chung said about McCourty on Wednesday at the team’s hotel. “He’s a good player, he’s an instinctive player, on the field, off the field. He’s a good dude, easy to work with, and I feel it helps us a lot. He’s a leader out there.”
McCourty has the speed and instincts to sniff out a deep pass, whereas Chung excels in man coverage against tight ends and running backs, and in his run defense. Chung ranks 12th overall in Pro Football Focus’ safety rankings and third in run defense.
Chung is so good against the run that he’s back playing a hybrid safety/linebacker role, which isn’t entirely foreign to the sixth-year pro.
“It’s just whatever Coach has drawn up for that game. It could be linebacker, it could be strong safety, it could be back deep, it could be nickel,” Chung said. “It just all depends on what game it is. I can’t say ‘I like being this role,’ because we all have that role.”
The hybrid role was called “rover” at Oregon, but the Patriots don’t like to pigeonhole their players.
“I think what’s helped Pat is his hard work and dedication to the team,” safeties coach Brian Flores said Wednesday. “That’s why he’s had a solid season. I’m not a big free safety, strong safety — he’s done a good job where we’ve tried to utilize him. That’s why he’s had a solid season.”
Chung’s sure tackling and strong run-stopping skills will be needed Sunday against Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks’ dangerous rushing attack, and if he’s playing weak-side linebacker, he won’t be overly surprised.
“You gotta do what you gotta do sometimes,” Chung said with a smile.
Thumbnail photo via Stephan Savoia/Associated Press