Kyle Dugger Learning To Be Versatile Chess Piece For Patriots’ Defense

Can the Patriots' top draft pick be a defensive difference-maker?

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FOXBORO, Mass. — Many of the New England Patriots’ best defensive players have been ones who can play multiple positions.

That’s what second-round draft pick Kyle Dugger is hoping to do.

Speaking with reporters Friday for the first time since draft night, the rookie safety explained how the Patriots are tapping into his versatility in training camp.

“I feel like as I continue to see different things in every position, obviously the more I can do, the better,” Dugger said. “The veterans and coaches have been huge in helping me get a feel for both (safety) spots. I can?t say what I feel more comfortable doing, but I want to be comfortable doing both, equally.”

Dugger primarily played as a deep safety in college at Lenior-Rhyne, but at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he has the size to play in the box as a strong safety or hybrid linebacker. The Patriots are looking to replace players at both positions after trading away third safety Duron Harmon and losing starting strong safety Patrick Chung to a COVID-19 opt-out.

“This comfort for me has been very good, just with more so how I have been coached up,” Dugger said. “My coaches as well as my teammates, the veterans in the room, have been huge for me helping me understand the box and the differences. Really, just the confidence is coming quite well because of that specifically.”

Dugger was an early standout in Patriots camp, registering interceptions in back-to-back practices and garnering praise from both head coach Bill Belichick and veteran position mate Devin McCourty.

Belichick raved about Dugger’s instincts, football IQ and continuous improvement. McCourty praised the rookie’s playmaking ability.

“I think he does a good job just being around the football,” McCourty said days into camp. “Whether he?s down, whether he?s on the back end, he?s done a good job of that so far.”

A lower-body injury stunted Dugger’s progress, however. The former Division II standout was limited in six consecutive practices before taking part in Friday’s non-padded “game simulation” and has not fully participated in a padded practice since Aug. 20.

“It is not so much frustration because of the time and having to take a step back, but more of not being able to get out there with the team and grow with them and kind of develop with them and be involved,” Dugger said of his limitations. “(That) is more so the frustrating thing. Really, just not being able to be part of the growth as we go through camp was the frustrating thing for me.”

If he’s healthy, Dugger could be in line for substantial defensive playing time this season. He, Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks have looked like the top contenders for Chung’s starting spot, with cornerback Joejuan Williams also possessing the versatility to play that role.

Phillips initially projected as the favorite to win that job, but he’s been absent or limited for most of camp. The Patriots are two weeks out from their season opener — Sept. 13 against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

Thumbnail photo via New England Patriots

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