Patriots Positional Preview: Devin McCourty Leads Strong Returning Safety Group

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As the New England Patriots count down the final days before training camp begins July 27, NESN.com is taking a position-by-position look at this year’s team. Next up: safeties.

Barring injury or some unexpected developments during training camp, the Patriots likely will see little change at the safety position this season.

Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, last season’s starters, are back, as are Duron Harmon and Jordan Richards, both of whom saw significant playing time as backups in 2015.

With Nate Ebner and linebacker/D-back hybrids Brandon King and Kamu Grugier-Hill utilized more as special-teamers, and Cedric Thompson a long shot to make the roster, expect that quartet to remain in those spots on the defensive depth chart as we enter the 2016 campaign.

“I think we have a great opportunity this year,” McCourty, a defensive captain, told reporters during Patriots minicamp last month. “Just like last year. I think sometimes you go into a season, and you have some unknowns. You have guys that are not as experienced as the year before, and a ton of talk is out there about how you won’t be as good. I think inside, you know that you have good players, and you know you’ve just got to play to it.

“And I think now, we feel the same way. It’s just everyone else now knows and thinks we have good players. … I think that’s exciting to know that you have a good group, and you have a group that’s anxious to learn and get better.”

Some position groups will feature heated battles for roster spots once camp commences. Safety will not be one of them.

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— Ebner prioritized a shot at Olympic glory over practicing with the Patriots this offseason.

A former rugby star at the collegiate and international levels, the 27-year-old has spent the past few months with the U.S. national sevens team, which will send a 12-man squad to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio next month. Ebner should find out within the next week whether he’s made the cut.

Ebner signed a two-year contract extension with the Patriots earlier this offseason and is expected to return to Foxboro once his time with national team is over. If he makes the U.S. roster, that would be in mid-August, as the Olympic rugby tournament runs from Aug. 9 to 11.

Though he’s seldom used on defense, Ebner logged a team-high 369 special teams snaps last season, according to Pro Football Reference.

— Harmon, who posted career highs in interceptions (three) and passes defended (five) last season, did not participate in any of the organized team activity or minicamp practices that were open to the media.

The Rutgers product said he expects to be ready for training camp, however.

Check back in the days leading up to Patriots training camp for preview of each position. We’ll be staying on the defensive side of the ball throughout this week before switching to offense beginning next Monday.

Tuesday, July 12: Defensive line
Wednesday, July 13: Defensive ends/linebackers
Thursday, July 14: Safeties
Friday, July 15: Cornerbacks

Monday, July 18: Running backs
Tuesday, July 19: Offensive line
Wednesday, July 20: Wide receivers
Thursday, July 21: Tight ends
Friday, July 22: Quarterbacks

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

Nov 8, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) reacts with New England Patriots strong safety Patrick Chung (23) after a play against the Washington Redskins in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Redskins 27-10. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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