FOXBORO, Mass. — Last year, the New England Patriots entered Week 2 with safety Patrick Chung as their primary punt returner.
If the same is true this week, Chung will be ready.
The Patriots have been without a permanent punt returner so far this season with Danny Amendola leaving the team in free agency and Julian Edelman currently serving a four-game suspension. Riley McCarron filled that role in Week 1, but he was waived after muffing a punt late in New England’s 27-20 win over the Houston Texans.
Newly signed running back Kenjon Barner looks like the favorite to handle punt return duties this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but Chung is the next-best option.
“I always practice it,” Chung said Thursday. “If my name’s called, I’m going to go in there. If it’s not, then I’m going to do something else. I’m not really worried about that part of it. When that part comes, we’ll figure it out.”
Chung has been the Patriots’ emergency punt returner in recent years, entering when injuries or inconsistency sidelined the team’s primary return men. He filled in when Amendola and Edelman were injured early last season (one return for zero yards, two fair catches against the New Orleans Saints) and when Cyrus Jones was benched late in the 2016 campaign (one return for 7 yards, one fair catch against the Baltimore Ravens).
“(My strategy is) make good decisions, get the ball downfield and try to make a play,” said Chung, who has returned three punts in his 10-year NFL career. “It’s all about good decisions.”
He added: “You don’t want to force it. That’s kind of the general rule. And if you are able to get the opportunity to try to make a play, make a play, protect the ball, call it a day.”
Chung, wide receiver Chris Hogan, running back Rex Burkhead and wideout/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson all practiced returning punts during the summer, with Patterson seeing time there in a preseason game, as well. Hogan and Burkhead both have not returned a punt in a regular-season NFL game, and Patterson has returned one.
“Whoever the returners are, we’ll just go out there (in practice) and catch punts,” Chung said. “Some guys who aren’t returners will go back and catch punts. That’s not my decision. If Coach tells me to do this, I’m going to go do that, and if my name is called, I’ve got to be ready.”
Even before the Patriots signed Barner, special teams coach Joe Judge expressed confidence in the team’s pool of punt return candidates.
“I know there’s a lot of questions right now in terms of what’s the next step going to be, but I’ll just say that this isn’t very unfamiliar territory for us,” Judge said.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images