By: Steve Balestrieri
Chock this one up as un-expected…The Patriots signed Patrick Chung on Thursday as the 6th year safety was released after one unsuccessful season with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is a good depth signing for New England as Chung can help in-the-box at strong safety as well as be a key contributor on Special Teams.
Chung spent the first four seasons of his career with the Patriots from 2009 – 2012 before signing a three-year $10 million dollar deal last spring from the Eagles.
I heard about this potential signing two weeks ago from a person with inside information down in Foxboro and frankly I discounted it as, “that ship has sailed” and if you’re reading this my friend…apologies. Obviously the two sides have been talking for some time and made it happen.
Surprisingly, this move was met with an outpouring of scorn from Patriots fans. Chung didn’t exactly set the world on fire during his first tenure here. After barely playing in his rookie season, 2010 seemed like he was playing with confidence and physicality. But his second half of the 2011 season and most of 2012 was a series of late and incorrect decisions as well as injury problems.
But to be fair the Patriots were playing zone Cover-2 defense where he was expected to provide a deep presence, which is hardly his strength. Now the team is playing much more man coverage with a single deep safety and Devin McCourtyis much more secure at his position than he was during the times of Chung’s earlier years.
Chung, should he stick with the team this year, will provide depth as well as a sizable Special Teams presence. The SS position now will allow him to make plays in the box, where he’s much better suited. One of the reasons the team jettisoned Steve Gregory was that he was essentially a FS playing out of position. Chung is tailor made for in-the-box play. Plus, he’s a bit bigger, younger, faster, already knows the playbook, the calls and the coaching staff.
This job is essentially Duron Harmon’s to lose at this point. Chung will be one of the guys including Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, and Nate Ebner looked to provide depth and insurance in the case of Harmon going down with injury or lack of production.
None of these players is a fit at free safety so the talk of Logan Ryan getting some work at free safety makes sense in the event that McCourty gets injured. With a plethora of good cornerbacks including recent free agent additions Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the team is strong and deep there. It also frees up a position of need in the draft.
For what it is worth, I still think the Patriots will use Browner at some point at safety in some of their sub-packages…but that is a story for a different time.
Bill Belichick is always one to mix and match against teams being very game plan specific and depending upon the opponent, the Patriots will change their identity from week to week. The defense is certainly much more able to do that now with the additions of Revis and Browner. Chung could find himself in the mix this season.
He’ll definitely find himself more comfortable than he was in 2011 and 2012 when the Patriots were giving up big play after big play in the secondary. He’ll be able to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he made the majority of his big plays anyway.
One area where he’ll provide immediate dividends is on special teams where his play was always very good. Going back to 2010, Chung had a memorable night in Miami when he blocked two kicks and later returned an interception for a touchdown in a blowout win.
His STs prowess should give the two Wilsons as well as Ebner pause as this may decide who stays and who goes at the end of training camp. Chung may be able to contribute both on STs and on defense which is something that has been limited in Tavon Wilson and Ebner, while Adrian Wilson doesn’t play STs.
So Patriots fans can relax a bit, this was a good depth move by the team. Maybe that ship hasn’t sailed after all.