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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Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today. we're looking at a position where the Patriots have arguably the best player that’s ever manned it in his presumed prime. But tight end is suddenly a tenuous spot for New England.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


This became – contrary to the Patriots hopes – a one-man position. Rob Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. The rest of the tight ends – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Martellus Bennett – combined for 20 catches and six of those came from Bennett who played just two games before heading to injured reserve. Gronk was – and is – the best tight end in the game and one of its most dominating offensive weapons. After losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, the Patriots offense became tremendously Gronk-reliant. They got away with it. But they clearly wanted more from Dwayne Allen than what they got or they wouldn’t have gone after Bennett when he became available.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Will Tye, Jacob Hollister

WHO IS NOT?
All tight ends on the roster are under contract.

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Publicity grab or legitimate consideration? What exactly to make of Gronk’s reported dalliance with the WWE and his idle desire to be an action movie star (also reported)? Both have the earmarks of brand-building genius. It’s a page torn from the business plans of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard or Conor McGregor – ruminating on retirement and expressing interest in other public pursuits exponentially ratchets up public interest in both the main gig and the potential side gig. Gronk himself might not be that savvy and calculating to mildly hold the Patriots fortunes hostage but Gronk Inc. certainly is. Then again, maybe he legitimately is weighing it. The “will he or won’t he” conversation will sustain buzz and has to in some way impact the Patriots’ offseason plans. The presumption has to be that Gronk returns but this is anything but a layup. Which means the need is a Level-8

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There is a nice crop of tight ends hitting the market. Virtually all of them come with the same nagging health issues that Gronk has (had). Jimmy Graham is the biggest name in the group. His tepid blocking skills may make him unattractive to the Patriots, but never let it be said the Pats don’t like to take a flier on a once-electric player who’s on the backside. At 31, Graham’s coming off a 10-touchdown season, though his yards per catch went down to 9.1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see New England pursue. The Eagles' second tight end, Trey Burton, is 26 and stuck behind Zach Ertz. An undrafted rookie, the kid who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl is targeted sparingly in Philly but is a smooth player. He also plays special teams (boing!). Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally got his stuff together with the Jets in 2017 and he’s only 25. He’s no dummy, he’s only acted like one in the past and it seems like he’s got a handle on it now. He’d need face-to-face vetting but he’s got upside. Then there’s Tyler Eifert. Still just 27, Eifert’s played in 10 games the past two seasons and had season-ending back surgery in the fall (it was performed by the same doctor who treated Gronk). He’s played 39 games in five seasons. Terrific talent. Always broken.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


I like this Dallas Goedert kid from South Dakota State. Also, Dalton Schultz from Stanford gets checkmarks as a blocker and competent receiver. Neither of them are first-round prospects at this point. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are regarded as the top prospects. Hurst is a very good pass-catcher with a huge catch radius. He’s a 24-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates draftee. Andrews is smooth as a receiver but not seen as a potent blocker. Same with Mike Gesicki from Penn State who’s the best athlete along with Hurst but doesn’t impress with his blocking.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Assuming Gronk is returning, the Patriots can go at it a number of ways. There’s not a “can’t miss” prospect out there, so drafting Hurst or Gesicki in the first couple of rounds means they’ll have to live with the shortcomings or hope they can improve them. Given other needs, they may not want to spend on “maybes” near the top of the draft. Too many drafts have been like that, especially with second-rounders. It seems unlikely they’ll be really interested in counting on either Allen or Bennett to provide anything in 2018. If they take a run at the Eagles’ Burton and pay him a crapload, Gronk will lose his mind. Screw it. They should take Hurst. We will change our minds several times between now and April but that’s where we are now.

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

Julian Edelman is grinding.

The New England Patriots receiver, who is recovering from an ACL repair surgery that ended his 2017 season, shared a quick video from his workout on Tuesday. Edelman is shown running with a resistance band and a trainer in-tow.

Edelman has posted a few tidbits on social media to show encouraging signs during his recovery since he got surgery in October after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason game. He was spotted around the locker room a few times during the final weeks of the 2017 season.

"Rehab is a [expletive]. It sucks," Edelman said in November on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take podcast." "You go in and you’re feeling decent and then you warm up, you beat it up and then you get stiff again. I mean it’s just a process and you go in six days a week and you’re going into work it, work on everything — your flexion, your extension."