The New England Patriots’ competition for the starting strong safety spot might solve itself this summer.
Longtime Patriots starter Patrick Chung opted out for the 2020 NFL season, leaving Terrence Brooks, free-agent addition Adrian Phillips and 2020 second-round pick Kyle Dugger to fight it out for his role in the defense.
It’s fairly easy to see who’s winning, because Brooks, a defensive reserve and special teamer last season, is the only player consistently staying on the practice field. Phillips hasn’t practiced in several days, despite some appearances in full uniform, and Dugger has been limited, as well.
Brooks has started just one game in his six-year NFL career and played 274 defensive snaps with the Patriots last season, primarily filling in for Chung at strong safety when the starter was banged up.
Chung was a bit of a renaissance man in the Patriots’ defense, playing multiple roles and ranging from linebacker to slot cornerback. If Brooks is going to take over Chung’s starting role, he knows he too has to expand his game.
?I?m just trying to stay versatile,” Brooks said Tuesday on a video conference call. “Last year, I played a lot in the box, kind of modeling what Patrick Chung did. This year, I feel like I?m still doing a lot of things and still learning every position to make sure whenever my name is called I?m able to fill in at any position. For the most part, just trying to be a commander of the defense too. Just going out there trying to be the quarterback of that side of the ball. Just learning as much as I can.
“I?m absorbing information from everyone, learning press stuff from Steph (Gilmore), learning cool things to look for in the backend from Dev (McCourty). It?s a lot of things I?m picking up on and still trying to learn from. Hopefully, wherever the coaches put me I can do out at perform. It?s an exciting time, man.”
The Patriots also could choose to broaden their search for Chung’s replacement by moving one of their cornerbacks to safety. Slot-man Jonathan Jones and towering cornerback Joejuan Williams both have expressed a willingness to move around the Patriots’ defense to fill in where needed. In reality, it will likely take a village to replace Chung.
“For the most part, I think guys think it?s a new opportunity,” Brooks said. “Whenever Coach asks you to go out to a different position you want to perform well and know what you?re doing. That way, when the game comes and adversity happens you go in there and guys aren?t too worried because you know what to do, you know the communication is going to be good. That?s what we are getting a chance to do now. I feel like everyone should embrace it.
“We should learn corner, we should learn strong safety, we should learn free, we should learn dime, nickel. You should know all of that stuff because that?s going to help you with anything you?re doing in the defense. Guys are stepping up. For me, I?m just trying to become a leader out there and command the defense when my time is called to do that. That?s really where I?m at with it right now.”
The secondary is expected to be the strength of the Patriots’ roster with Gilmore, Jones, JC Jackson and Jason McCourty at cornerback and Devin McCourty overlooking the unit from free safety. Chung’s replacement just can’t be a weak link in the chain.