Patrick Chung is looking to bounce back for a second tour in New England in 2014. (AP)
OXBORO — No one is happier to be camping with the Patriots this summer than Patrick Chung.
The 26-year-old safety was allowed to walk after the 2012 season, his fourth in New England, and took a three-year, $10 million deal with Philadelphia in March 2013.
But after a disappointing first year, a season in which he never connected with new coach Chip Kelly, he was released in March. There were those who wondered who would want a safety who seemed on the outs, or at least out of chances in the NFL.
Enter the Patriots. Bill Belichick, who made the decision to let Steve Gregory walk, knew something about Chung that in his mind earned him another chance. Belichick offered Chung a one-year, $1.1 million deal based on his work ethic alone. Chung has been quietly making a good impression all over agin, working mainly with the second and third teams during the first four practices, with an occasional rep with the first unit and old friend Devin McCourty.
“I love it,” Chung told WEEI.com after Sunday’s rain-shortened practice. “Love it here. Culture is good here. Fans are good here. Coaches are good here. Locker room is good here. Food is good here. I like it here, man. It’s home.”
To McCourty, it’s just good to have a football brother next to him again on the field.
“It’s good because Pat is a true pro,” McCourty told WEEI.com. “He’s a guy that comes in every day ready to work. He understands the defense. I think he’s another model citizen for the younger guys, someone they can look at and model their game, model what he does to get ready for practice and get ready to know what he’s doing. It’s been great. He’s a friend mine who was here the whole time I was here. He experienced something different for a year and now he’s back.”
What specifically does Chung bring back to the Patriots and the secondary?
“Just his work ethic, whether it’s in the weight room and being one of the stronger guys or getting ready for practice, doing different things,” McCourty added. “A younger guy can come see him get in the hot tub, or I’ll do this before practice, just to make sure I’m ready. Not just stretch before practice and go. As you get in this league, you have different aches and pains you that you need to take care of on your own.”
While McCourty has passed Chung on the safety depth chart since his departure in 2012, Chung says not much else has changed since his first four-year tour in Foxboro.
“Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing,” Chung said. “Just work hard, stay out of trouble and take it day-by-day. Bill knows what he’s doing so pay attention.”
Chung is in a fierce competition for playing time in the secondary among safeties. In addition to McCourty, there’s Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Kanorris Davis and Shamiel Gary.
“We’re all competing,” Chung said. “With a good secondary back there, we’re all competing. Everybody is working hard, learning the defense to try and get better day by day. Whoever plays is whoever plays, whether it be starting, second string, special teams, it doesn’t really matter. It’d be great if we could all get on the field at some point. We just have to work hard to get better.”
There will be those surprised if Chung makes the roster out of camp. After five seasons in the NFL, does Chung feel he has to prove he still belongs on an NFL roster?
“Everybody has a lot to prove,” Chung said, deflecting the question somewhat. “Ten-year guys, 15-year guys, first-year guys [all] have a lot to prove. You just have to stay consistent and get better on a consistent basis. Yeah, I am young and I was blessed to start [NFL] early but I’m just like anybody else, just trying to get better.
“I’m just here trying to get better and make this team so we can win these games.”
Asked if he sees his role as a mentor for younger players like Harmon, Gary and Davis, Chung provided some perspective.
“I just got back and we have some changes so I’m just trying to mentor myself a little bit,” he said. “Just stay in the playbook and get right. We’re all learning the same things, all in same meeting rooms just learning. It should be good.
“You make it as tough as you want to. You go home, you study, you make sure you know what you’re doing then things are easy. If you don’t, then things are going to be real tough for you.”
Since leaving after the ’12 season, it was old friend McCourty who stepped in and became a leader in the secondary.
“He’s good. We’re getting better,” Chung said. “He’s gotten good and he’s been good. But we’re still working hard and have a long way to go,” Chung said. “Everybody is learning. It’s actually a really good group, it’s a really good group. Everybody is funny and everybody is smart and learning. We’re just trying to get better. Everybody is competing with each other, pushing everybody else so it’s good. I’m really glad to be back. It’s a good group of people.”