By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Leading up to the start of training camp, we’ll be breaking down each position on the Patriots roster. Here’s a look at New England’s group at safety, the team’s last line of defense.
The safety group has a chance to be one of the team’s most deep — and versatile — positions on the roster.
Devin McCourty, heading into his 12th NFL season, will once again be the leader of the group and one of the leaders on defense. And there will be a No. 23 roaming the defensive backfield again, but it will not be Patrick Chung, who retired this season after opting out of the 2020 season.
Chung’s retirement will give second-year safety Kyle Dugger, the new 23, more opportunity to shine. And by shine we mean lay some absolutely devastating hits. He’s among the most intriguing young players on the New England roster.
Here’s a quick look at how New England is shaping up at the safety position heading into training camp.
Offseason Additions: Mills (free agency), Colbert (free agency), Bledsoe (NFL Draft)
Offseason Subtractions: Chung (retirement)
Phillips is heading into his eighth NFL season and second with the Patriots, so he’ll have more familiarity with the system. He was pretty good in 2020, picking off a pair of passes, defending two others and logging 109 total tackles. The veteran will likely see the most time lined up next to McCourty.
But Dugger’s versatility will lead to plenty of playing time, with the 25-year-old probably setting up shop all over the field, whether he’s lining up against tight ends, in the box, out deep, or occasionally making an appearance as a linebacker. The former D-II star is in line for a breakout year in the New England secondary.
Versatility is really the name of the game with this group. Phillips can also play up in the box or out deep, though with a much better linebacking group this year, he’ll likely spend more time deep. Newcomer Jalen Mills can line up at either corner or safety, so expect to see him wear both hats when the defense is out there.
Bethel and Davis both signed new deals over the offseason and give the Patriots depth at safety and consistent play on special teams, so they are pretty much locked into roster spots. Davis is a veteran journeyman who also plays special teams, but he signed late in the offseason and will have to have a strong camp to secure his spot on the team.
Bledsoe is another intriguing young player, a sixth-round pick out of Missouri. He was a playmaker for the Tigers for four years, with 18 picks, three fumble recoveries and a pair of forced fumbles, but has a lot of vets ahead of him on the depth chart.
New England has a deep crop of players at safety, a versatile bunch that should be able to make plenty of plays throughout the season.