FOXBORO, Mass. — Kyle Dugger is coming off an impressive rookie season for the New England Patriots.
Just don’t expect to hear that from him.
Dugger, the versatile, playmaking safety New England drafted with their top pick last spring, was asked Thursday how he’s grade his first season in the pros.
His response: “Below average.”
“That’s really all I can say,” he added. “It was fun to get the experience and be out there, but it wasn’t a great year.”
It was a down year for the Patriots as a team, certainly, but Dugger showed great promise during their 7-9 campaign, playing multiple spots in New England’s secondary and flashing his top-tier athleticism and ability to bury blockers and ball-carriers with thunderous hits. He started seven of the Patriots’ final eight games and is expected to take on an even larger role in Year 2.
“I think all the first and second-year players, it’s always a big jump for them from Year 1 to Year 2,” head coach Bill Belichick said before Thursday’s training camp practice. “They come to camp and have much better understanding of our system, understanding of the National Football League and understanding of the expectations and routine is. After you’ve been through it once, it’s a lot easier to prepare and go through it the second time.”
Dugger can attest to that. He said he feels far more comfortable now than he did a year ago, when he was making the leap from Division II to the NFL amid a worldwide pandemic.
“(It’s) night and day,” Dugger said. “Just looking at the first couple days of (2020 training) camp, it’s a big difference. I’m like a completely different player, and that’s great to see, and I can feel that, as well.”
Dugger has garnered praise from several current and former teammates, including the recently retired Patrick Chung, who earlier this month said he believes Dugger can be “way better than I am.” Dugger is wearing Chung’s old No. 23 this season, switching from the No. 35 he wore as a rookie.
Outside linebacker Matt Judon joined the chorus of compliments after Thursday’s practice.
“I think the biggest jump between Year 1 and Year 2,” said Judon, who came over from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency. “He’s seen it before, and now everything is not new to him. So he’s going to be able to play faster and he’s going to be able to play smoother. When people play smooth, they play really fast. … We’ve got to see what he does on the field, but I think for right now, he’s looking really smooth.”
Dugger’s best NFL performance to date came against Judon’s former team. In his first professional start, he played 56 defensive snaps and recorded a career-high 12 tackles — including multiple clutch stops in the fourth quarter — in a 23-17 win over the favored Ravens.
The Patriots will be hoping for more such outings from their exciting young defensive back this season.
“Kyle’s had a good offseason, and he has worked hard,” Belichick said. “I would say he’s ready to go. We’ll see how it goes.”