New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger is ready for the frequently referenced second-year leap, despite the fact his rookie season probably caught many by surprise.
And in a good way.
Dugger, who was the Patriots’ first selection in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, started seven games as a rookie. He frequently made loud, highlight-reel hits all while showing an extreme versatility and sky-high potential. His play in the box, specifically, filled the role Patrick Chung earned himself before opting out of the 2020 campaign.
And now that Dugger actually will receive a full offseason, unlike last year with COVID limitations, it could go a long way ahead of his sophomore season. Dugger, as he told reporters during a video conference Tuesday, already is feeling much more comfortable than he was just one year prior, fresh off a second-round selection.
“I feel way more comfortable, just in general, in the defense. I feel much more comfortable,” Dugger said, per the team. “I’m seeing things a little slower and a little easier. So I’m definitely feeling more comfortable already.”
Dugger missed two games with an ankle injury last season, and while it may have come at an inopportune time seeing as though it was right when the game started slowing down, he continued to focus on his mental preparation. It helped him end the year strong.
“Right before my injury actually, me getting hurt, was actually the first game it started to slow down for me,” Dugger said. “After, of course after coming back, it was kind of just had to re-adjust. But the Denver game (Week 6) was probably when I first started to feel a little bit more comfortable and toward the end of the season, as well, things started to feel a little easier.”
It certainly was depicted as Dugger made a game-high 12 tackles in his first start against the Baltimore Ravens during a Week 10 win. He finished the season playing 51% of defensive snaps and 46% of special teams snaps in 14 games.
The former Division II Lenoir-Rhyne safety noted a few specific ways he was trying to improve this season. That never-stop-learning attitude was one piece of advice he (and linebacker Josh Uche) received from the recently retired Chung.
“I’ve really focused on my technique and my steps, being more efficient with my feet. And making sure I was doing everything, taking out all the unnecessary movements and really just getting more comfortable with the technique,” Dugger said.
Dugger will be one of five safeties on the depth chart along with starter Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, free-agent addition Jalen Mills and recent draftee Joshuah Bledsoe.