Sunday night’s game in Denver allowed us to see all the faces of Pat Chung, football-wise. On one snap, he lined up as the nickel cornerback opposite the Broncos’ third wide receiver, Cody Latimer. On the very next play, Chung found himself lined up in the box, essentially playing the role of outside linebacker. Then later on the same drive, the versatile safety was head-up on the tight end, Jeff Heuerman. Welcome to Pat’s world, where life is rarely the same from one play to the next.
“Things just change depending on gameplan or the call,” Chung told me after Wednesday’s practice at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “I practice that throughout the week so it’s not as big a surprise when it happens in the game. That’s just the normal defense since I’ve been here. I have a good grasp on it. Yes, we still have to learn things if they install something new, but I just absorb it and go from there.”
Chung does it so well though that the coaching staff keeps asking him to do this, that and the other thing week in and week out. When I asked Bill Belichick if anyone on that defense has more responsibilities, the head coach practically gushed about the 30-year old Chung.
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“More than anybody on defense,” said Belichick. “He does a great job for us. Pat has done that for us the last three years. He plays anywhere from linebacker to safety to corner to safety on the line to safety off the line, as well as in the kicking game. He gives us plays on special teams too.”
What allows Chung, now in his second stint with the Patriots, to wear all these hats and still play at a high level?
“He plays lot of positions. He’s tough. He can cover.,” said Stephon Gilmore. “Anything the coaches ask him to do, he does it well. He’s very scrappy and very tough. You have to respect his game.”
“There’s not too many people that can play strong safety, corner, star, kick return, punt returner, linebacker,” marveled Duron Harmon. “This guy is literally everywhere. It just shows the type of work he puts in during the week to be able to hold that type of accountability for coach to put him all those types of positions.”
“Pat’s in very good condition,” noted Belichick. “He’s an excellent athlete. Good football player, good tackler, plays well in space, he has a good set of skills that translate and transfer to coverage positions, to run-fits in tackling, to space playing in the kicking game. He’s very competitive in all those spots…and he’s smart. He handles a lot of responsibilities for us. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
When apprised of Belichick’s comments, Chung smiled, be it ever so briefly. There’s a bigger picture here, and the safety/linebacker/special teams ace seems to have a good handle on it.
“You just gotta take it a compliment,” Chung said. “If you’re able to do a lot of things and coach has confidence in you that’s something you have to do for yourself so that he keeps his confidence in you, keeps asking you to do it,’ adding “and just trying to keep the job - honestly - to make sure I stay on the team and feed my family.”
The Pats rewarded Chung’s good play with a contract extension last year and then added more financial incentive to that deal this summer, giving the former Oregon star a chance to earn $1.7 million in playing time bonuses, up from $900K when he first signed the deal. Chung has played 83% of the snaps this season, which is reportedly the top tier on that contract. If he keeps playing this way, that’s more money in the bank. Of course, as with any football player, there’s an element of risk, but for Chung - at 215 pounds on a good day - there’s even more with all that he gets asked to do closer to the line of scrimmage. It’s not uncommon to see him have to take on a pulling guard or get put some close to the interior line that he ends up going toe-to-toe with a tackle. That’s a lot of weight and strength to give up. Is there any way to train/prepare for that part of the game?
“You can’t really prepare your body for that,” he chuckled. “It’s just a mental thing. You gotta be tough. Sometimes you gotta hit little guys. Sometimes you gotta hit bigger guys. You put that on film that you’ll hit anyone and I don’t know, I guess it shows you’re tough. Whoever’s there, you have to deal with them on that play. If I can make a play, I do it. If my teammates can make a play, it’s just something I’ve gotta do. You can’t really think about it. If he hits you in the mouth and knocks you down…if he hits you in the mouth and you stand…if you hit them…you see? It’s what it is.”
It’s precisely that kind of can-do attitude and play that has ingratiated Chung to the coaching staff and teammates as well.