<
>

Patrick Chung makes transition from Patriots safety to superfan

play
Clark likes Cam, Pats to begin season with win (1:02)

Ryan Clark and Mina Kimes both like Cam Newton to earn a win in his Patriots' debut vs. the Dolphins in Week 1. (1:02)

Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Chung the super fan: Longtime Patriots starting safety Patrick Chung might have opted out of the 2020 season due to family considerations, but he remains well-connected to the team. His plans for Sunday at 1 p.m., when the Patriots host the Miami Dolphins in the season opener, are locked in.

"I plan on watching with my family for the first time, losing my mind at the same time!" Chung told ESPN.com.

That makes this opening day different from most for Chung since 2009, when the Patriots drafted him in the second round. While he naturally misses football, he has no regrets from opting out.

"It's been fine, hanging with son [Taj], baby girl on the way, so that will be awesome to spend full time with her when she gets here," he said. "I'm learning a lot of new things. Trying to better myself."

Chung, who will be celebrating Taj's 10th birthday this week, keeps in contact with some of his teammates. He joked that he has a couple of things planned to stay plugged in over the course of the season that, true to Patriots code, will remain a secret.

As for Sunday's opener, he expects it will be "difficult but fun" for him to be watching on television.

"I just pray they are safe and ball out," he said. "That would be the perfect day for me."

2. Revisiting the opt-outs: Chung was one of an NFL-high eight Patriots players to opt out, and time has provided more clarity on how the team plans to fill the voids.

  • Dont'a Hightower: Third-year linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley has stepped up as the defensive signal-caller, while draft picks Josh Uche (second round) and Anfernee Jennings (third round) spent a lot of time working alongside him and project to play early significant roles.

  • Chung: Free-agent safety Adrian Phillips was in and out of practice, which opened the door for Terrence Brooks to solidify his standing on the team. Some combination of the two seems most likely, with top draft pick Kyle Dugger waiting in the wings.

  • Marcus Cannon: It was a runaway, with fourth-year player Jermaine Eluemunor going wire to wire as the top right tackle.

  • Brandon Bolden: The veteran running back had his depth spot on offense taken by undrafted free-agent J.J. Taylor, while a combination of players are primed to fill his core special-teams role.

  • Matt LaCosse: The primary beneficiary is third-year tight end Ryan Izzo, whose experience in the system is a buffer with rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene the others at the position.

  • Marqise Lee: If healthy, the veteran receiver had a solid shot to emerge in an underwhelming, unproven depth chart.

  • Danny Vitale: The free-agent fullback probably would have had a hard time beating out Jakob Johnson.

  • Najee Toran: He would have vied for a backup center role, where Hjalte Froholdt (roster) has settled in.

3. Phillips a mystery man: Phillips signed with the Patriots on March 21, and in a reflection of how this year has been different in football reporting, his first interview with independent media members came Friday. He's been a true mystery man in that regard. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Phillips spent the first six years of his career with the Chargers and potentially fits best on defense in a linebacker-type role when five or more defensive backs are on the field. While he carved out a niche as a top special-teams player, he didn't show up as much in the kicking game during training camp. As for how he had flown under the radar, injured players generally aren't cleared for media interviews, which is part of it. Then the other times Phillips had been on the initial media schedule, or requested, it never materialized. On Friday, Phillips said of the Patriots' defense: "When looking from the outside-in, it looks like one thing. But when you actually get here, it's a big puzzle. Seeing how everything works, it's really beautiful. It's like art."

4. QB pecking order: One of the NFL's coronavirus-related rule changes for 2020 is that teams can carry 48 players for games, not 46, as long as one of the extras is an offensive lineman. Patriots coach Bill Belichick previously said he anticipates having 48 for Sunday's opener, which means the Patriots only have to deactivate five players. Perhaps the greatest intrigue will be at quarterback; if Belichick goes into the game with two, as projected, is it Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham as the backup to Cam Newton? Either way, his decision will create a clear-cut snapshot of how he views the quarterback depth chart.

5. Romo on Patriots-Dolphins: CBS is sending its No. 1 broadcast team of Jim Nantz (play-by-play), Tony Romo (analysis) and Tracy Wolfson (sideline/stands) for the Patriots-Dolphins opener. While the Patriots are favored by 6.5 points, Romo sees the game as a toss-up. "I'm excited to see how this thing plays out because I don't know, and that's enjoyable," he said. "That's why football is amazing."

A few other soundbites from Romo, the NFL on CBS star:

  • On the Dolphins' rebuild: "What they're doing, they're building it the right way. I really feel like you're going to see Miami come on; they'll be better this year. There's no question they're going to be a much improved football team. The way they're doing it is what I'm most impressed with. ... I think that in two years, you're going to see a monster leap. I think [Brian] Flores is doing a good job. It's a team to watch out for."

  • On the Patriots: "We're doing New England early [in the season] and I'm excited because I know how gifted Bill Belichick is; he's rare times 10,000. I also know how gifted Tom Brady is; he's rare times 10,000. These two just went separate [ways], and this is going to be fun [to watch] from a fan, from an analyst, perspective."

6. McCourty as future head coach: When first-year Giants head coach Joe Judge was asked the current or former player who would make a great head coach, he picked Patriots safety Devin McCourty. That's high praise. McCourty, 33, was flattered when it was mentioned to him, saying the highest level he could envision himself coaching right now is high school or Pop Warner, to share what he’s learned to the younger generations.

7. Eight is enough for captains: The Patriots named eight captains for the 2020 season, which struck me as a high total for a 53-man roster. It is also a reminder of how things have grown over the years when considering that in Belichick's first year as Patriots coach, there were just three captains: Drew Bledsoe, Willie McGinest and Lawyer Milloy. The Patriots did have eight captains one other year in Belichick's tenure -- 2008. When it comes to teams in the NFL that elect captains for the entire year -- instead of selecting them weekly for individual games -- no team has more than the Patriots' eight this year (the Dolphins, Jaguars, Eagles and Cardinals are the other teams with that number).

8. Krafts stood by their staff: Billionaire Panthers owner David Tepper took heat for laying off/furloughing full-time staff members as the coronavirus pandemic naturally affected business, which highlighted a different approach from Patriots owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft. The Patriots, who have one of the largest full-time staffs in the NFL, have had no layoffs or furloughs so far this year.

9. Belichick's opening record: Belichick is 17-8 on kickoff weekend, with his 17 wins the most among active head coaches. Chiefs coach Andy Reid (14-8 after Thursday's victory) is the only other active head coach who has won at least 10 games on kickoff weekend.

10. Did You Know: With a victory against the Dolphins on Sunday, the Patriots would become the first original American Football League team to reach 550 wins in franchise history. They are 549-416-9, with the Denver Broncos (506-442-10), Oakland Raiders (498-451-11), Kansas City Chiefs (494-442-12) and San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (464-471-11) rounding out the top five.