BOSTON (CBS) — The tradition of hard-hitting Patriots safeties during the Bill Belichick era is well known. From Lawyer Milloy to Rodney Harrison to Brandon Meriweather to Patrick Chung, a physical presence on the back end of the Patriots’ defense has long been a staple in Foxboro.

So when Bill Belichick surprised everyone by going with Division II safety Kyle Dugger with the 37th overall pick in the 2020 draft, it was clear that the head coach had identified the next player to carry on that legacy.

READ MORE: Hurley's Picks: Tom Brady Amused By Aaron Rodgers' Ownership Stake In Bears

Fittingly, then, Dugger made a switch of his jersey number for the upcoming season, going from No. 35 to No. 23, which had been worn by Chung for the entirety of his second stint in New England, from 2014-20.

Speaking to the media at the New England Free Jacks rugby game over the weekend, Chung said that Dugger actually made a call to the recently retired safety and asked for permission to take over the jersey number.

“That’s huge respect,” Chung told ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “I mean a lot of people don’t have to ask. If it’s open, they’ll take it. But for him to call me and ask when he didn’t have to, I appreciate that. And he’s a good player, so hopefully he can be great, and hopefully better than me. I really, truly hope for that.”

READ MORE: Jaylen Brown Will Play In Celtics' Season Opener

Dugger did not get to share the field with Chung last year, as Chung opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. Despite that, Chung remained involved in talking to his teammates, including the rookie Dugger.

Now that Chung has officially retired, the jersey number was available. Dugger didn’t hesitate to make the change, and Chung didn’t hesitate to give his blessing.

“It was simple,” Chung said of the conversation with Dugger. “He just asked me. I went, ‘Is that what you want?’ He goes, ‘That was the plan.’ I said, ‘All right, take it. Just make sure you take over.’ And that was it.”

Chung, 33, has high hopes for the 25-year-old out of Lenoir-Rhyne University.

MORE NEWS: Patriots Working Out Cornerback Brian Poole

“I think he’s gonna be really good,” Chung said. “He’s young, he’s raw, he has the size, he has the instincts, and, you know, he asked me for the number, and I said yes, absolutely. I told him to take it over. I pray to God he’s way better than I am. That’s only gonna help us as the Patriots. So hopefully he gets to that point. I believe he can. He has all the intangibles, so I’m praying for that.”

CBSBoston.com Staff