Patriots

Belichick admits mistakes in handling Chung's role first time around

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Belichick admits mistakes in handling Chung's role first time around

FOXBORO -- When Patrick Chung returned for his second go-round with the Patriots in 2014, anyone who was paying attention could see he was playing in a different role, nearer to the line of scrimmage. He'd tell anyone who asked about it that he enjoyed being closer to the action. 

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Since then, his career has enjoyed a total resurgence. He's played in every game but one in the last four seasons, and he's started in every game but nine. He's been touted by Bill Belichick as one of the best tacklers Belichick has ever coached, he's a core special-teamer, and he's been a versatile safety-slash-linebacker-slash-slot-corner hybrid who has been key to New England's three most recent Super Bowl appearances.

"The guy is a really good football player," Belichick said of Chung earlier this month. "He’s one of the best players in the league, one of the best players on our team. He does a lot of things very well and has done them that way for a long time. We’re lucky we have him. He’s an outstanding player in all the things that he does. We put a lot on him, and he always comes through."

Chung's full array of skills was on display in the AFC title game as he stepped up to make tackles on Jacksonville's 230-pound running back Leonard Fournette, he covered tight ends in the passing game, and he rushed quarterback Blake Bortles on back-to-back snaps in the third quarter to help force an incompletion and a Lawrence Guy sack. 

His role now is far different from the one he held in New England from 2009-2012. At that point, the second-round pick out of Oregon was often used as a versatile piece in the team's split-safety looks, covering deep sections of the field with fellow safeties Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, James Ihedigbo and Tavon Wilson. By the end of the 2012 season, though, Devin McCourty had been relocated from corner to safety, and veteran Steve Gregory became a starter at the other safety spot. Chung played a total of three snaps in two postseason games that year.

He signed a three-year deal with the Eagles the following offseason and started in 11 games before being released the following March. Less than a month later, he re-signed with the Patriots on a one-year contract. 

"We took the guy in the second round," Belichick replied when asked when he realized Chung was so versatile. "But it just -- for a combination of reasons, I'd say a big part of it [being] mistakes that I personally made -- it didn’t work out the way that we hoped it would. But we got it right the second time. I think we've been able to utilize him. I wish we had been able to do that when we initially got him, but it didn’t work out that way. Like I said, I think we finally got it right."

And that's not just coach speak. The Patriots gave Chung a three-year extension at the end of the 2014 season for $8.2 million, and he picked up another one-year extension after the 2015 season for $5.7 million.

In the Patriots defense, where versatile players can be utilized to handle multiple responsibilities -- and confuse opponents in the process, as Chung did when he rushed Bortles and ruined Jacksonville's protection scheme -- Chung is worth his weight in Super Bowl tickets. Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty -- even Jordan Richards and Nate Ebner, as Belichick pointed out -- are also capable of handling a variety of responsibilities, making it hard to decipher what any one player will do during any one particular snap. 

"They can all do a lot of different things," Belichick said. "That gives us some interchangeability and some flexibility, so it's been a huge luxury. We've been able to maintain that group, the consistency of that group, including Nate even though he’s not on the roster right now, the active roster, but his role that the consistency that we've had from those five guys including Nate, the last three-plus years has been great."

Belichick noted that due to free agency and the tendencies for players to change teams from year-to-year, it's rare to see a group remain so consistent for so long.

"It’s hard to get in this league," Belichick said. "That’s the way it was back when I was with the Giants, when you had the same guys for six, seven, eight years in a row. You had a different level of consistency, and performance, and confidence and trust in each other that the way the game is now just it's hard to get that.

"You get it in a few spots occasionally, but there was a different point in time where that was kind of the norm, and the teams you played against, it was a lot of the same matchups. But we've been very fortunate at that position. Those guys are durable. They’re tough. They show up every day. They’re ready to go every day, and they perform well."

When it comes to Chung specifically, those qualities are part of what makes him, in Belichick's eyes, one of the best in the business.

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Belichick the G.O.A.T.? He's got this ex-Steeler's vote

Belichick the G.O.A.T.? He's got this ex-Steeler's vote

A Pittsburgh Steelers great sticking up for Bill Belichick? When the argument is who's the greatest NFL coach of all time, sure.

Ex-Steelers Pro Bowl cornerback Ryan Clark, now an analyst for ESPN, says the Patriots coach has no peer, just as his quarterback, a fellow GOAT, said earlier this week. 

“There are things done in today’s football to create parity. Every team needs to have a chance. This is why the Super Bowl moves around now because they want every team to feel like they have an opportunity to host the Super Bowl and play in it at the same time,” Clark said on one of the network's debate shows. "Bill Belichick has totally destroyed that. Every single year when you come into the season, you think the Patriots are the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Every single time. It’s because he can adjust each and every week to be the best team on the field.

“Bill Belichick recreates himself every single Sunday.”

Watch the full clip here: 

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Patriots' first-round pick Isaiah Wynn out for season with torn Achilles

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Patriots' first-round pick Isaiah Wynn out for season with torn Achilles

There are loads of ways for an NFL team to stock its roster. Free agency, restricted free agency, undrafted free agents, trades, practice squad poaching. Gotta try ‘em all.  

So just because the NFL Draft is the most celebrated and extensively covered avenue, it doesn’t mean drafted players are inherently better. 

Which is good, because the Patriots have been getting kicked in the head by the top of the draft over the past few years. 

The latest instance? An Achilles tendon rupture suffered by first-round offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn Thursday night against the Eagles. Wynn, the 23rd overall pick out of Georgia, is done for the year. 

The Patriots had two first round picks this year and Wynn was kind of the “safe” draft pick. His Georgia teammate, Sony Michel, taken by the team with the 31st overall pick, was supposed to be the dice roll. Both Mike Mayock and Mike Lombardi -- Patriot friendlies -- reported in the days leading up to the draft that teams were concerned about Michel being “bone on bone” in his knee.

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Voila, Michel was there at 31. The Patriots drafted him -- despite the knee forecast -- because he’s really good and the team believes that the late-first and second-round picks are good times to spend selections on talented players that may have warning flags accompanying them. 

Michel has already had a procedure to have his knee drained and may not play in this preseason. 

Some might also mention here that second-round pick Duke Dawson missed Thursday night’s game with a hamstring and cite that as evidence that furthers the head-kicking the Pats have been taking. But that would be dumb because Dawson will be back soon and he’s performed really well in camp. As has fifth-round linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. 

So it’s not like the Patriots go 0-for-April. They just have too many swings and misses on what should be fairly flat fastballs. 

Since 2012, the team has drafted 22 players in the first three rounds. 

Twelve are still with the team (Wynn, Michel, Dawson, Derek Rivers, Cyrus Jones, Joe Thuney, Vincent Valentine, Malcom Brown, Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon, Donta Hightower). 

Of those, Hightower and Harmon are two that you would say have been vital players to the Patriots success. To a lesser degree, Thuney and Malcom Brown. 

Among the 10 who are gone, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Chandler Jones are ones who also had strong impacts. 

So that’s six out of 22. And only two of those impact guys remain. 

Unmitigated misses in the first three rounds would be Antonio Garcia (third-rounder in 2017), Dominique Easley (first-round, 2014) and Aaron Dobson (second round 2013). 

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Some guys did a little and aren’t here anymore (Jacoby Brissett, Tavon Wilson). 

More guys are still here, haven’t done diddly and don’t appear on the verge of being impact players  (Cyrus Jones, Valentine, Richards, Grissom). 

For whatever reason, the Patriots tend to kick ass later in the draft. Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason, Nate Ebner, Cam Fleming, James White, Joe Cardona, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras have either fulfilled expectations based on their role and draft position or exceeded it (Mason, Flowers, Ebner and White in particular). 

But at the top they just can’t make the connection. And still they win. 

Why’s that? A lot of reasons. The main one being that -- in 2000 -- they got it right in the sixth round with the 199th pick. It certainly hasn’t been because of Adrian Klemm (second rounder, 2000). 

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