Why Patrick Chung’s versatility has been invaluable to Patriots this season
FOXBOROUGH – When Dwayne Allen first arrived at Gillette Stadium in the offseason, the former Colts tight end remembers hearing one of the loudest clangs in the weight room coming from an unlikely candidate.
It was Patrick Chung and he was lifting 275 pounds with the ease typically reserved for those much bigger than him.
“I was just like, ‘Yo, what position do you play again?’ ” Allen recalled Friday at Gillette Stadium. “That was the first thing when I saw him in the weight room. I saw him get underneath the bar, no warm-ups, rep it out eight times. He’s an animal.”
Technically, Chung is listed as a safety on the Patriots depth chart but that distinction hardly defines his responsibilities. He’s the only player on the roster who will line up in the secondary one play and then as a linebacker near the line of scrimmage the next, only to do both at a level that meets coach Bill Belichick’s standards.
He’ll cover running backs and slot receivers, but he has knack for handling tight ends, which is what he likely will do against the Eagles’ Zach Ertz in Super Bowl LII.
For the 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound Chung, being paired against bigger players such as Ertz, who is 6-5, 250 pounds, is part of the game he embraces.
“Not thinking about how big they are,” Chung said. “I go just out there and play them. It’s one-on-one, either you’re going to beat me or I’m going to beat you. I’m just trying to do my best. If you beat me, then you earned it. I’m trying to keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing to help the team.”
Chung’s versatility has been invaluable to the Patriots this season. His ability to line up in various spots gave the coaching staff flexibility when they dealt with injuries at cornerback and linebacker. He played every defensive snap in both playoff games, and likely will be counted on to do the same against the Eagles.
“It just comes back to hard work,” Chung said earlier this week. “If someone puts something on your plate and tells you, ‘Hey, you need to do this, we think you can do it,’ you’ve got to take that as a compliment and just work hard and do whatever you have to do to keep that respect and trust. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Belichick has praised Chung at times this season, even calling him one of the top safeties in the NFL.
“It only means something if I play good this next game,” Chung said flatly during a news conference Friday.
Ertz had 74 catches this season for 824 yards and eight touchdowns. In the Eagles’ two playoff games, he had 11 catches for 125 yards combined – an average of 11.6 yards per catch.
Part of Chung’s success against bigger pass catchers stems from his ability to combine his strength with precise technique.
“Ugh, I do get to go against Pat [in practice],” Allen groaned. “It’s difficult. He’s good, man, and it’s not just something he learned this year or last year. This is his ninth year in the National Football League. He’s covered . . . shoot, I’m sure every position on the offensive side of the ball.”
Allen paused as if to remember everything Chung has proven he’s capable of doing on the field.
“Although I have seen him run into a tackle full speed and demolish him, that toss crack [against the Titans], he came downhill, he ran right through the tackle. I was just like, ouch,” Allen said.
Playing against the Eagles, the team Chung played for in 2013, means little other than the obvious, which is an opportunity to win another Super Bowl.
“Just going to play a game, man, do what we’ve got to do to win and finish as champions,” he said.
Chung returned to the Patriots in 2014. He was drafted by the Patriots in 2009 in the second round, No. 34 overall, and played free safety, a role that didn’t necessarily suit him.
He played just two snaps in the Patriots’ 2012 AFC Championship loss to the Ravens, then left for a three-year, $10 million deal with Philadelphia. Chung was released after one season, which gave the Patriots another chance at using Chung in their scheme.
Earlier this week, Belichick had a rather candid moment when he assumed blame for not utilizing Chung to the best of his abilities during that first stint with the Patriots.
Reminded of Belichick’s comments, Chung simply said, “I feel good.”
Chung wasn’t overly thrilled about standing at the lectern, staring down the row of cameras at the back of the room. It was a preview of what he’ll have to deal with next week in Minneapolis, particularly at the frenzy Monday that is media day.
“Absolutely not,” Chung said when asked if he was looking forward to it.
The hard-hitting plug of the Patriots defense would rather let his play do the talking. And by the way Chung has performed this season, there are no questions left unanswered.