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Patriots 2021 Training Camp Primer – Safeties

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
6 months ago at 6:30 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots 2021 Training Camp Primer – SafetiesSteve Balestrieri -

The Patriots’ defense wasn’t great a year ago, but the play in the secondary was strong and safety could arguably have been the strongest positional group of the team. And this was despite Pat Chung, opting out of the season due to the COVID-19  pandemic. 

The unit was anchored by Devin McCourty who remains the quarterback for the secondary as well as one of the unquestioned leaders on and off the field. But as rock steady as his play has always been, the play of the strong (box) safeties jumps off the page, even with Chung missing (and who now has retired).

Adrian Phillips was asked to play as a dime linebacker for much of the season and did a fine job although when it comes to being a linebacker in run defense, it wasn’t fair for him to take on blockers who outweighed him by 100 pounds. Kyle Dugger was a rookie from a tiny school in N.C.(Lenoir-Rhyne University) but he logged in a terrific rookie season and played snaps in the box as a strong safety, free safety, as a single deep-high safety, and as a dime strong side linebacker. 

With both Phillips and Dugger in their second seasons in Foxboro, they should be even better. Dugger looks to be a playmaker that has a long career ahead of him. Those two and McCourty could be the makings of a great position group in 2021. 

Adrian Phillips

Adrian Phillips was a great addition to the Patriots in 2020. Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

And there is depth as well. Jalen Mills, who played a ton of cornerback in the spring actually played more snaps at safety last year (565 to 409) than at cornerback. Myles Bryant has played both at corner and safety, so the versatility factor comes into play as well. 

Colbert seems to be a long shot to make the roster, the 6’2, 205-pounder has had trouble staying healthy but if so, could compete for a backup job to McCourty. Bledsoe with two-H’s in his first name is a 6th round pick but is also a versatile defender as well. 

The Patriots Check back with as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 28.

Current roster – Devin McCourty; Adrian Phillips; Kyle Dugger; Cody Davis; Justin Bethel, Adrian Colbert, Joshuah Bledsoe. 

Roster Locks: McCourty, Phillips, Dugger, Davis, Bethel

Discussion – When it comes to the Safeties on the team, Devin McCourty, entering his 12th season on the team is a lock for a red jacket when his playing career is done. He shows little sign of wearing down but at 33, it is time to find or groom someone to take his place. 

McCourty is the leader who fires up all of his teammates and then backs it up with his stellar play on the field. He’s in the last year of his contract. Will this be it for him? I wouldn’t be surprised…however, if the team looks like it’s turning things around quickly, he may be convinced to play another year. But that conversation is for another time. 

Kyle Dugger is the next star waiting in the wings. As a rookie, he was already being used as a movable chess piece by the coaching staff. Who would have thought that the transition from a tiny school to the NFL would have been so easy-looking? 

Now with a year under his belt, he is primed to have a big year. When it comes to looking for McCourty’s eventual successor, with the athleticism that Dugger possesses, he’d be a natural to take over McCourty’s role. Especially with the depth, the team seems to have at strong safety. But we’ll have to see. 

Adrian Phillips came into Foxboro with a reputation as a Special Teams maven and a versatile player who can and will line up anywhere. And that he did. Phillips was a great addition last year, especially after Chung opted out. Despite being asked to play out of position he did so ably and eased the loss of Chung a year ago. 

Phillips is a versatile, aggressive playmaker who will no doubt benefit from having a second year in the Patriots system. With the nice additions at linebacker, he’ll be freed up to play more of a box safety role. 

Davis and Bethel are locks for the roster but won’t contribute much if anything on defense. They were given new contracts for their prowess on Special Teams. Both only saw one snap each on defense in 2020. That won’t change. 

Kyle Dugger lays a big hit during the 2020 season against the Chargers. (USA Today photo

Adrian Colbert was thrilled to be picked up by the Patriots this spring. He has four years in the league and has had stops in San Francisco, with the New York Giants, and Miami. While he’ll have a tough time cracking the defense, his special teams’ acumen may just earn him a spot. Keep an eye on him once the preseason starts. 

Joshuah Bledsoe is an intriguing player whose draft stock took a hit when he broke his wrist at the Senior Bowl this winter. The Patriots picked him up in the 6th round. He had surgery to repair his wrist before the draft. He was obviously limited during the spring and was seen with a cast on his wrist. He was placed on the NFI list to start camp. 

But he has a lot of potential as both a cover and box safety and is another core special teams’ player while he was at Missouri. However, like Cameron McGrone, we may not get to see his true potential until 2022. 

With help from Mills and/or Bryant, the Patriots’ safety position looks to be even stronger than it was a year ago… Who’s ready for camp to begin?

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Featured photo of Devin McCourty: Steve Balestrieri


Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Adrian Colbert Adrian Phillips Bill Belichick Cody Davis Devin McCourty Joshuah Bledsoe Justin Bethel Kyle Dugger New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots safeties

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