Patriots

Versatility and can-do attitude make Chung valuable to Patriots

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Versatility and can-do attitude make Chung valuable to Patriots

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. 

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Prototypical Patriots: They can always use another good running back

Prototypical Patriots: They can always use another good running back

The Patriots aren't exactly in dire need of running back help. They have Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill and Brandon Bolden all under contract. Yes, they lost Dion Lewis to the Titans in free agency, but if Burkhead stays healthy, he could potentially offer some of what Lewis did as a dual-threat runner and receiver.

PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS - Previously in the series:

Still, this draft class is so loaded with talent at running back that the Patriots may have the opportunity to select a player in the middle rounds who in other years would've gone earlier. There's value there. 

Penn State star Saquon Barkley will go somewhere in the top seven, it seems, and probably earlier. He's not going to be in New England's range, in all likelihood. But late in the second round? Even into the third and fourth? There are players who have the size, athleticism and traits the Patriots often covet - both in "sub" and "big" backs. 

Let's take a look... 

PROTOTYPES IN RANGE
RONALD JONES, USC, 5-11, 205 POUNDS

Jones could be the best dual-threat available to the Patriots. He wasn't used heavily in the passing game at USC, but he has the ability to catch it and he understands how to protect. And when asked to run between the tackles, he's a no-nonsense back who protects the football (two fumbles in 591 carries) and is a threat to create a big play at any moment. A hamstring issue prevented him from testing fully during the pre-draft process, but he still recorded a solid 36 1/2-inch vertical at the combine.

SONY MICHEL, GEORGIA, 5-11, 214 

Another potentially-versatile option, Michel isn't the water-bug type. He hits holes hard and tries to outrun anyone unlucky enough to be chasing him. Like Jones, he has solid hands and can be relied upon in protection. Athletically, Michel isn't a freak (4.54-second 40, 4.21-second shuttle), but he was a two-year captain at a program that Bill Belichick respects. 

DERRIUS GUICE, LSU, 5-10, 224 

Guice doesn't have the explosiveness of others the Patriots have selected (31 1/2-inch vertical), but his speed is good (4.49 seconds), and his running style screams "Patriots big back." He could be a first-round choice, and the Patriots reportedly hosted him on a pre-draft top-30 visit. 

RASHAAD PENNY, SAN DIEGO STATE, 5-11, 220

Elusive and athletic enough by Patriots standards (4.46-second 40, 32.5-inch vertical, 10-foot broad), Penny is one of the draft's more intriguing talents at the position. He's not ready to step in as a pass-protector, but he certainly knows what he's doing when handed the rock. He led all Division 1 runners last year with 2,248 yards on 289 carries. He was a first-team All-American and he placed fifth in the Heisman voting. 

ROYCE FREEMAN, OREGON, 5-11, 229

Another back with good size and impressive enough testing numbers, Freeman could slide in what is thought to be a very deep class of runners. He jumped 34 inches in the vertical and hit 118 inches in the broad jump, both solid numbers for a player his size. His three-cone (6.9 seconds) was also satisfactory based on New England's history drafting at the position. If he's deemed a reliable receiver -- it looks like his hands are relatively dependable -- he could be an interesting all-purpose option in the middle rounds. 

KERRYON JOHNSON, AUBURN, 5-11, 213

Did we mention this is a deep class? Johnson's a perfect example of just how deep it is. He's generated very little media buzz, but he's one of the most gifted runners in the class. And he didn't exactly come from out of nowhere. He was a second-team AP All-American last season for his ability to do it all (1,391 yards on 285 carries, 24 catches for 194 yards). Johnson's explosiveness would certainly play in New England. He had a 40-inch vertical, a 126-inch broad to go along with a more pedestrian 7.07-second three-cone at this year's combine.  

NICK CHUBB, GEORGIA, 5-11, 227 

Chubb isn't a burner (4.52-second 40), but the Patriots haven't been married to 40 times when they've taken backs in the past. He's a very good athlete, even after his devastating leg injury from 2015, and could serve as a first and second-down option who should be available late in the second round if the Patriots want him. 

NYHEIM HINES, NC STATE, 5-8, 198


What's working in Hines' favor when it comes to his fit in New England? He comes from an offense the Patriots respect, which produced both Joe Thuney and Jacoby Brissett. Hines also happens to be one of the fastest players in the class (4.38-second 40). His three-cone might not be ideal for New England (7.18 seconds), but his experience catching the football should earn him a good long look from Belichick and the Patriots front office. 

KALEN BALLAGE, ARIZONA STATE, 6-1, 228


He'd qualify as a big back but he tested as a sub option, and his tape shows a player who has all kinds of versatility. He's strong enough to run between the tackles, he can catch, he can align as a receiver, and he has experience returning kicks. Sound like a Patriot? He's a little inconsistent, and he may be slow to the hole at times, which could make him a late Day 2 or Day 3 option. 

AKRUM WADLEY, IOWA, 5-10, 194 


Another college coaching connection here. Wadley played behind a well-coached offensive line under head coach Kirk Ferentz, and he should be able to adapt to NFL life relatively quickly when it comes to understanding scheme. He is on the edge of acceptable athleticism compared to other backs drafted to New England when it comes to his testing (4.54-second 40, 32-inch vertical). But he seems more athletic than that on tape, showing an ability to create yards on his own with his shake. Wadley is light and so there are questions about how he'll hold up at the next level, but he could be a sub option since he has experience lining up in the slot as a receiver. He's also returned kicks. 

CHASE EDMONDS, FORDHAM, 5-9, 205


Edmonds certainly falls into the category of sub runner based on his size. And while the level of competition he faced at the college level wasn't top-tier, his athleticism seems to be satisfactory based on others the Patriots have drafted at the position. His 40 isn't eye-popping, but looks good enough (4.55 seconds). His vertical (34 inches), broad jump (122 inches), three-cone (6.79 seconds) and short shuttle (4.07 seconds) were all very impressive. In the late rounds, he may be worth a pick. 

BO SCARBROUGH, ALABAMA, 6-1, 228 

Scarbrough became an internet sensation because of his ridiculous build coming out of high school. He never became a star at 'Bama, but he shouldn't be discounted because the buzz on him early in his career didn't match his production. Scarbrough's size and athleticism (4.52-second 40, 40-inch vertical, 129-inch broad) is rare. Combine that with the coaching he received in college, and perhaps the Patriots see a big back who would be good value in the middle rounds. 

IMPERFECT BUT INTRIGUING
JUSTIN JACKSON, NORTHWESTERN, 6-0, 193


Jackson's frame may be a little more slight than the Patriots would prefer, and he's not exactly a polished receiver, but he's an impressive athlete (38 1/2-inch vertical, 122-inch broad, 6.81-second three-cone, 4.07-second short shuttle). His long speed isn't amazing (4.52-second 40), but his other traits should get him drafted late. 

MARK WALTON, MIAMI, 5-10, 202

We've written about Walton already in the pre-draft process. There are many reasons to believe he'd be a Patriots fit. But when he tested at the combine, he didn't exactly drop any jaws. His 4.6-second 40 and 31 1/2-inch vert are a little below what the Patriots have typically sought. 

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