Gregory's reliability key to improving secondary

Gregory's reliability key to improving secondary
September 5, 2013, 1:45 pm
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FOXBORO – Patrick Chung was a pretty good football player. His career was on an upward arc with the Patriots through 2010 and into an injury-marred 2011.
 
But in 2012 – a contract year for Chung – he played safety like a kid chasing balloons on a windy day. Seemingly trying to “make plays” Chung – despite his ability – wound up benched. And now he plays for the Eagles.
 
In life, consistency and reliability are traits that go an awful long way. In football, where 11 players are interdependent on each other’s performance, you can’t be unreliable.
 
“We like to say that dependability is more important than ability,” Bill Belichick said Wednesday.
 
His answer came not in relation to Chung, but in a follow-up question about Steve Gregory, another Patriots safety.
 
Gregory started each of the 12 games he played for the Patriots last year. He had three picks, a couple of fumble recoveries and 31 tackles. But there were times he was overmatched, especially when the 5-11, 185-pounder was in a position to try and pull down players who outweighed him by 40 pounds and had a head of steam. Coverage-wise, Gregory had moments, but he wasn’t by any means a playmaker.
 
He seemed replaceable. Of course, there were times in 2012 when the entire secondary seemed replaceable by four guys on the nearest bar stools at Toby Keith’s. But that’s last year.
 
This season, the secondary is more settled and Gregory remains a big part of it. The reason is reliability.

“Steve has been a pretty solid guy for us, all the way through on defense and in the kicking game,” Belichick appraised Wednesday. “Smart, very well-prepared, instinctive player. I think the biggest thing for him is it’s another year in the system, another year of working with his teammates – linebackers, communication, with the safeties, that communication, corners.

“I think he understands everything we do and he has a great handle on it,” Belichick added. “A lot of things he’s done before in his career. I think it’s just the communication, the timing, the execution, disguises, reads, all those things with his teammates. I think the improvement is more with the group. I think individually he has a good handle on things.”

Posing the question to a player that’s prefaced by, “I think you struggled at times last year…” is a delicate process. When Gregory heard that this week, he didn’t seem to appreciate the critique but considered the viewpoint.

“The more experience you have – even if you’ve played a number of seasons – there’s always room for improvement,” he said. “As a player, the key is understanding what areas you need to improve in and working on them. As you do that, you can continue to do that to be a better player.”
 
Tackling and better range. Were those areas he focused on?
 
“Those are crucial fundamentals to the game of football,” he agreed. “You have to tackle well and in the scheme of the defense, make plays on the ball. You have to do that at a consistent level. You can’t have it where one week you do it well and one week you don’t. It’s gotta be a consistent thing. You have to do that week in and week out.”
 
With shuffling pieces in the secondary until late in the year, the whole group struggled at time. Poor communication and bad guesses were often the culprits. When trying to cover an area that starts behind the linebackers and ends at your goal line, bad communication or false steps are killers.
 
“The game of football isn’t always necessarily being able to get to one spot,” said Gregory. “It’s understanding where your threats are on the field within a defense. Where you need to be helping and not helping. A lot of times from the outside looking in, there’s always a little bit of criticism of a play when using generic expectations when that might not be the way we’re playing it on that play. But that’s something for us in the locker room to game plan on.
 
“Leveraging, being physical at the line of scrimmage,” Gregory added. “All those things tie into making a defense successful. It’s the NFL, a game of inches. One wrong step here or wrong step there and they’re completing passes.”
 
Gregory appears to have held off second-year player Tavon Wilson for one starting safety spot. Next to him will be Devin McCourty. Aqib Talib and a combo of Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington will be the corners.  
 
If the Patriots defense is going to make the leap it’s expected to this season – the leap it needs to – Gregory will be a key component.
 
“For a defense to be successful, everything has to tie in together,” he explained. “We all have to be one cohesive unit. But it does come down to one-on-one matchups.”