FOXBOROUGH — Patrick Chung has often been referred to as a locker room leader by younger Patriots looking for guidance about surviving the rigors of the NFL.
Now the leader title is official.
Chung was one of six players — and one of two first-timers — named captains for the 2018 season Thursday. James White also got the nod for the first time in his five-year career.
Tom Brady earned the honor for the 17th straight season, along with Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater (eighth straight season for both), and David Andrews, who was chosen for the second straight year.
Chung and White take spots formerly occupied by Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower, both of whom were captains the last two seasons, and Duron Harmon, who earned the nod last year.
“I’m happy about it. I feel good about it. To earn the respect of my teammates — it’s a privilege to be a voice for them,’’ said Chung, a 10-year veteran now in the fifth season of his second tour in New England. “You know me, I’d rather just lead by example and do my thing, but it is an honor and I’m going live up to it the best I can.’’
Chung acknowledged he was “a little surprised” when he got the word, “but I’m happy about it. It’s good. I’ll take it.’’
Chung has developed into one of the most versatile, valuable, and durable safeties in the league, often morphing from run stopper to pass defender from play to play. His daily battles with Gronkowski are the stuff of legend, and each has credited the other with sharpening their skills.
Back in January, when the Patriots were making their run toward the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick called Chung “one of the best players in the league.”
“He does a lot of things very well and had done them that way for a long time,’’ said the coach, who signed Chung to a two-year, $7.8 million extension in the offseason. “We’re lucky to 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.’’
McCourty, who has been a captain since his second season in New England, said it’s a deserving honor for his running mate in the secondary.
“I think it’s awesome. I think he’s been a guy that’s worked hard. His performance has obviously been great for years,’’ McCourty said Thursday. “I think he’s really embraced [his role] since he came back. He really took it over. I think he’s one of the best safeties in the box covering tight ends in the whole NFL. I think he walks around like that now.’’
Consistency has been Chung’s calling card, according to McCourty.
“Whether it’s getting people right, whether it’s leading by example, he’s a guy that every game we go out there you can count on him,’’ McCourty said. “You know he’s always going to be where he needs to be and he’s going to perform at a high level.’’
McCourty said he wasn’t surprised by Chung’s reaction to the news.
“Outwardly he’s not going to be a guy that acts like he really wants that — he likes being in the shadow, leading by example, the guy that not everyone talks about but that everyone counts on,’’ said McCourty. “He loves that. It’s a great honor for him.’’
Like Chung, White has blossomed in his four-plus seasons in Foxborough. He went from little-used rookie in 2014 to one of the league’s top receiving running backs. He has 116 catches for 980 yards and 8 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
His signature performance came in Super Bowl LI, when he caught a record 14 passes for 110 yards and rushed for 29 yards, including the winning touchdown in overtime.
“I don’t think you could ask any more of a teammate than what James provides us and the trust that everyone has in him,’’ Brady said in August. “I feel like he never makes a mistake and it’s pretty amazing to have that.’’