FOXBORO, Mass. — Safety Patrick Chung has proven many critics wrong in his second stint with the New England Patriots.
Chung originally was drafted by the Patriots in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft and was forced to play out of position as a deep free safety. He struggled through injuries and left the Patriots to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in 2013.
After one season playing for the Eagles under his college head coach, Chip Kelly, Chung was cut and returned to the Patriots in 2014. With Devin McCourty at free safety, Chung was able to play near the line of scrimmage, excelling in a starting role as a safety/linebacker hybrid, covering tight ends and defending the run.
Chung showed even more versatility Sunday night, when he shadowed shifty, speedy Indianapolis Colts No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton for half of the game.
“Patrick’s always covered well,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. “He’s played the slot position for us in the past. I remember a lot of 1-on-1s with him out here on (Wes) Welker (in practice) when he was here before he went to Philly. For a safety, he’s a good coverage player. He’s got good quickness, he’s got good playing strength, runs well, smart, he’s been in those situations, he’s comfortable in them. He does a good job.”
The Patriots are shallow at cornerback, so they’re using Chung and McCourty near the line of scrimmage and having Duron Harmon protect the deep part of the field at free safety. The plan worked Sunday night, and it helps that McCourty is a former cornerback and Chung has experience in the slot.
“It’s definitely a plus in terms of pass coverage,” Belichick said. “I think you’re seeing more and more of that throughout the league. Kind of saw that last week, couple former corners playing safety.
“You see that with a lot of teams — Buffalo did it. That’s part of what it is. Jets did it. (Marcus) Gilchrist (of the New York Jets), that’s another guy who was drafted as a corner. He’s a safety, but he can cover. You see that a lot across the league, safeties who are able to handle the spread formations and handle the passing game. We’re just seeing less and less tight box formations. The traditional strong safety role from a couple decades ago, that’s just, you get fewer and fewer of those.
Chung sometimes still gets a bad rap with Patriots fans, so they might have panicked heading into Sunday’s game if they had known he would be covering Hilton. Chung has been one of the Patriots’ most dependable defenders over the last two seasons, however, and his reputation deserves to improve.
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