BOSTON (CBS) — When Patrick Chung joined the Patriots in 2009, he came with more than just the usual expectations placed upon a second-round pick. He also had some rather large shoes to fill.
While Chung was not drafted in order to replace Rodney Harrison, who retired after the 2008 season, he was nevertheless thought of as the eventual heir apparent for the starting safety job. The fact that he could hit hard and showed the ability to make plays only worked to increase the Harrison comparisons.
A few years later, though, you just don’t hear Chung being compared to Harrison anymore. Chung’s spotty play at safety and struggles to stay healthy have led to questions about his future with the team.
Harrison, now a TV analyst, talked with the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian about the development of Chung. True to form, Harrison didn’t hold back.
“To be honest, it’s three going on four years now. He should have developed into one of the top-tier safeties in the league,” Harrison told the Herald. “If you think about the top safeties right now, you don’t think of Patrick Chung. Unfortunately, he has that type of ability, too.”
Harrison knows, too. In his third and fourth seasons in 1996 and ’97 in San Diego, he racked up 255 total tackles, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and five sacks. After a much quieter first two years in the league, Harrison truly announced his presence in the league in years three and four.
Chung, however, managed to play just eight games last year, his third in the league, recording 62 total tackles, one interception and one sack. He missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury, and his status for Sunday’s game in London is not yet known.
With Chung in the final year of his rookie contract, Harrison says the young safety is running out of time to earn that next deal.
“After two to three years, if you’re not getting better, and it’s getting to a point where they feel like you can’t really be the great player they want you to be, they’ll go in a different direction,” Harrison told the Herald. “If they’re willing to spend [between $6 million and $8 million] a year on a safety, if you haven’t been out there, and you’re not what they think you should be — I mean, you’ve got to be dominant for that type of money from the Patriots. And if you’re not there, you’re not going to get it. They’ll go out and get somebody else. That’s the harsh reality.”
That reality, when you think about it, may have already begun for Chung. After not drafting a safety in the 2010 or ’11 drafts, Bill Belichick drafted safety Tavon Wilson in the second round this year while also acquiring veteran safety Steve Gregory via free agency. Many draft experts considered the Wilson pick to be a reach at No. 48 overall, which indicates Belichick likely placed on emphasis on drafting and developing the safety position.
For Harrison, a borderline Hall of Famer who was the first player to ever record 30 career interceptions and 30 career sacks, Chung has the talent to fulfill his potential.
“Chung has the ability to have that presence, to be a physical guy, a guy that can dominate and lead,” Harrison told the Herald. “He can make others better. He can play consistent. He has that ability. He just has to do it.”
He certainly has to, and he may be running out of time.