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.