FOXBORO, Mass. — While watching the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, keep an eye on No. 25. Terrence Brooks. The 27-year-old could be a key contributor if Patrick Chung misses time after being indicted on a cocaine possession charge.
If Chung is convicted or admits to a violation of the law, he could be suspended up to four games under the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. That punishment could come this season or next year depending on how quickly the case moves. Chung also isn’t fully recovered from offseason surgery, so the possibility still exists that he could miss time to start the season, regardless.
The Patriots are better set up this season than they have been in past years to replace Chung, however. Brooks has been receiving extensive first-team reps while Chung has recovered from injury in a red non-contact injury. Brooks, like Chung, is a box safety who can move well and hit hard.
Brooks has played well this preseason, allowing two catches on four targets for 25 yards with a pass breakup in two games. The Patriots didn’t really have a backup strong safety last season after trading Jordan Richards to the Atlanta Falcons. If Chung missed time, Devin McCourty would move to strong safety with Duron Harmon entering the game at free safety. Richards was the Patriots’ backup strong safety in 2016 and 2017. Before Richards moved into the role, it was Tavon Wilson.
Brooks wasn’t thought of as a defensive contributor when he signed with the Patriots in March. He has spent more of his career as a core special-teams player, but it certainly seems like the Patriots have bigger plans for him this season based on his training camp usage.
Beyond Brooks, some of the Patriots’ cornerbacks also could chip in to replace Chung, who also spends time in the slot against certain matchups. Perhaps this could open the door for Patriots 2018 second-round pick Duke Dawson, who’s currently on the roster bubble, to make the team. It also likely would mean more playing time for slot corner Jonathan Jones.
Beyond Chung and Brooks, the Patriots have McCourty, Harmon, Nate Ebner, Obi Melifonwu, A.J. Howard and Malik Gant on their safety depth chart.
Chung is a difficult player to replace with everything he does in New England. He’s a strong safety/linebacker/slot cornerback/backup punt returner/special-teamer/scout-team running back, which, to our knowledge, no other player in the league can claim. But the Patriots are set up in Chung’s main role if he is forced to miss time after his indictment.