Chung enjoying playing mentor role

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Chung enjoying playing mentor role

FOXBORO -- Very quickly, Patrick Chung has gone from new guy to elder statesman in the Patriots secondary.

The third year player has seen a lot of imports and exports on the back end of the defense. Out have gone players like James Sanders, Brandon Meriweather, Shawn Springs, Brandon McGowan, Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite.

In have come Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, James Ihedigbo and James Barett.

Now, entering his fourth season, the 24-year-old says he's making a bigger, more commanding role in the secondary.

Asked the one area he's worked on that he feels he's gotten better at, Chung said quickly, "Being a coach on the field. You need to have a coach on the field. They give us the information, we gotta execute it. It's good to have a couple of guys out there on the field that can think like coaches and direct traffic and get everybody on the same page."

There were times over the past few seasons, the secondary was in different libraries, never mind the same page. But as the season wore on and Chung returned from an injury suffered in the regular season game against the Giants, the Patriots defense stiffened some.

The revolving door at the safety spot next to Chung and Devin McCourty's sophomore slump were key factors in the Patriots defensive decline to the 31st ranked pass defense in terms of yards. But Chung, especially by the end of the postseason, played with more confidence and aggressiveness than at any time in his career before that.

He says the camaraderie and willingness to learn are what's helping the secondary look as competent as it has, at least in most of these early training camp practices.

"Guys want to learn," said Chung. "It's all about learning. Everybody wants to learn and get out on the field. It helps. You have a lot more things than you did coming in. But we have other guys with experience I can learn from. Guys like (Steve) Gregory. They're smart and they learn. He comes to me, I go to him. It's a relationship. We're all in the same room and we're like brothers."

Gregory, a free agent signing from San Diego, has six seasons under his belt. But Chung is the more experienced player when it comes to Patriots tenure. They are a sounding board for each other, said Chung - Gregory with advice gleaned from his time in the AFC West, Chung with information about the Patriots' scheme.

He has two first names, I think it's awesome," Chung joked when asked what's been special about Gregory. "He's a smart dude. He's helping me with things. He's in his sixth year in the league, he knows things that I don't."

Throughout Tuesday's practice, the back end of the defense worked on dropping in zone coverage near the goal line. Communication in that quick-developing part of the field is paramount and Chung and Co. were on it.

"You can make it as hard as you want to," said Chung. "If you come in focused and ready to learn, ready to pick up on whatever you gotta pick up on and follow a veteran (you'll be fine). If you follow the lead or take the lead, the sky's the limit."

The Patriots don't need to get to the clouds. Back to ground zero after a tough 2011 would be a start. If Chung can stay healthy - a bugaboo for him the past two seasons, the Patriots should have their heads clear of the sand.

You can build on everything. You can build and get better at everything. Whether it's quick, fast stronger, neater, cleaner. Whatever the case may be you can always get better.

Mayo, Vince, James. Brandon. Everybody has to know what he's doing. It's different coming from a teammate. I'm not trying to be a coach, I'm trying to get guys better.

Curran: Jimmy G. Era is a reminder of what NFL did to Brady

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Curran: Jimmy G. Era is a reminder of what NFL did to Brady

FOXBORO -- So I guess this would be the official start of the Jimmy Garoppolo Era?

It is -- by Belichickian decree -- his team from now until October 3. He’s the lead dog, the head honcho, the big chief, the alpha male, head cheese, capo di tutti capi. For 67 days -- that’s from now until October 3, when Tom Brady can legally walk back into Gillette Stadium after his four-game banishment -- Garoppolo gets his dry run as The Man.

Brady, obviously, will be out there and -- especially during the early stages of training camp -- there will be an effort to make sure there’s no toe-stepping. Proper deference will shown to the future Hall of Famer.

But that will start to fade as the games draw closer and the urgency to be ready for Arizona grows. Believe it or not, the bus for Arizona is already idling (figuratively) and if you ain’t gonna be on it when it pulls out of town, you’ll need to step aside for the ones who will be.

That includes Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time. We really don’t have to plumb the details of how absurd, unfair, unethical and flat-out wrong Brady’s suspension is. It’s pretty well-established. The reality is, Brady is the clipboard-holder for the first time since September 2001.

Enter Diamond Jimmy.

And watch New Englanders now stagger into an awkward embrace of the third-year quarterback. This process has actually been going on for a little while now. A lot of it was -- aside from the maniac radio callers -- done in hushed tones with a hand cupped over the mouth. “Ya know, I actually am looking forward to watching Garoppolo. See what we got there.”

On the face of it, I understand the sentiment. There’s a second-round pick with a lightning release, good feet, excellent touch and impressive accuracy. If you like football, you like watching football players play football to see if they are good at it.

But it’s gone beyond that, I sense. There is a swath of the populace looking forward to four regular-season games of Jimmy. Some want to see him showcased and turned into a pick. Others think the four games rest will be beneficial for Brady. Others are simply bored by regular-season games and the Patriots' annual inexorable march to the playoffs and so this adds a little spice.

You idiots.

I don’t care what your excuse is, every snap that Garoppolo takes in 2016 should be taken as a personal affront. A flick in the tender region from the NFL, the 31 other “Roger has a tough job” owners and Goodell himself.

But besides that, we’re talking about one-quarter of an NFL season that will be missed by the best player the Patriots will ever have. Would you people have wished away 20 more games from Bill Russell, Larry Bird or Bobby Orr in the '60s, '70s and '80s just to see what Satch Sanders, Kevin Gamble or Mike Milbury could do?

So -- for football’s sake -- I say go ahead and enjoy the Garoppolo administration. But don’t get too carried away trying to put a buff-and-shine on the turd the NFL dropped on Foxboro.

Belichick on start of 42nd season: 'Each year is different'

Belichick on start of 42nd season: 'Each year is different'

FOXBORO -- He may be in his 42nd year in the National Football League, but for Bill Belichick, no two seasons are the same. As training camp practices get underway for the Patriots on Thursday, he'll be dealing with scenarios and skill sets that he hasn't yet seen.

This isn't Groundhog Day for him. Every year is different.

"It absolutely is," he said Wednesday. "Even though fundamentally I think a lot of things are the same -- things you have to do in camp in order to prepare for a season -- but each year is different.

"Players are different, teams we play are different, things change in the league, there are some rule modifications, or whatever. Things like that. So, every year is different and the chemistry – each team is different. Even with some of the same players there’s still always a little bit of a different mix. We’ll just have to see how it all goes. I don’t try and predict it. I don’t try and control it. It will just work itself out. We’ve got a lot of snaps out there, a lot of days, a lot of training camp days. It will all take care of itself."

Different as the Patriots situation may be to start this season, players who have come to know Belichick have come to expect a consistent approach. With so many variables swirling around each team every year, Belichick's mindset is constant.

After 42 years and four Super Bowl titles, it's clear he believes he's found something that works.

"I think the thing that’s remarkable about Bill is his approach," said Matthew Slater, one of the longest-tenured Patriots on the team, a fifth-round draft pick in 2008. "He hasn’t changed at all, and that consistency in his attitude and preparation, the things that he values and the things he tries to stress to his team. It’s really remarkable.

"I think it would be easy for him to become complacent. It’s human nature, once you have success you kind of exhale and think you have it figured out. And if anyone has it figured out it’s Bill Belichick. But you wouldn’t know it by the way he prepares, by the urgency with which he coaches us, the hours he puts in. That’s really been impressive to me in my time here, whether we go out and win a Super Bowl or don’t make the playoffs, he’s always been consistent in that regard."

For second straight year, Branch opens camp on active/NFI list

For second straight year, Branch opens camp on active/NFI list

FOXBORO -- Unless there's a late change to his status, Alan Branch will not be practicing with the Patriots when they open training camp on Thursday.

The veteran defensive lineman was placed on the active/non-football injury list on Wednesday, making him ineligible to practice with the team until he's removed. Branch will still count against the Patriots 90-man roster while he's on the active/NFI list.

Branch began training camp on the active/NFI list last year as well. It was reported then that he had failed a conditioning run, which led to him being held out of practices until Aug. 10.

Once Branch was cleared to play, he was one of New England's most effective and durable interior defensive linemen. He played in all 16 regular-season games, starting all but one. He was on the field for 40.5 percent of the team's snaps, seeing time in a rotation with a handful of others that included then-rookie Malcom Brown.

Headed into camp this year, Branch figured to play a significant role up front yet again, teaming up with Brown as well as free-agent signee Terrance Knighton and rookie fourth-round draft choice Vincent Valentine. With Branch unavailable for practice, that should free-up snaps for his teammates who play the same position -- a group that includes the three names mentioned above as well as two more free-agent adds in Markus Kuhn and Frank Kearse.

Branch was present for mandatory minicamp this spring, but he did not attend New England’s optional OTA practice sessions.