Perhaps the biggest change for the Patriots at safety this season is the one on the sidelines. Bill Belichick’s son, Steve, is the new safeties coach after four years as a coaching assistant.
That’s right, folks, the lineage is strong in Foxboro, and Steve Belichick has got himself a very strong unit to work with, too.
The Patriots return their two starters in Devin McCourty and Pat Chung, players that Bill Belichick trusts and respects. With those two skilled, veteran players having a proven track record of dependability leading the group, Steve Belichick won’t be tasked with coaching a weak position as a first-time coach.
Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards
McCourty is one of the best safeties in the NFL, and Chung has played excellent in his second stint with the Patriots. With McCourty’s coverage skills, Chung is more free to move up in the box, where he’s much more lethal as a tackler than he is in coverage. The two complement each other well.
Harmon has improved in each of his first three seasons, and goes into his fourth season as the team’s third safety. Harmon had three interceptions last season, and plays a strong coverage game, allowing McCourty a little more freedom. Richards, entering his second season, should see a bump in playing time but will continue to see time on special teams.
One player you won’t see in the beginning of Patriots training camp is Nate Ebner. Ebner is far, far away . . . in Rio, to be exact. The Patriots safety and special teamer is a member of the USA Rugby 7s Olympic team. It’s quite the honor for Ebner, who grew up playing rugby and starred on the Ohio State rugby team. He has the Patriots’ full support. Fellow special-teamer Matthew Slater wore Ebner’s No. 43 jersey one day at camp to honor him. Belichick enjoyed the shout-out. “I’ve talked to Nate several times; wish him well in his endeavor,” Belichick said. “It’s a great opportunity for him to follow his passion, participate in the Olympic Games. We’re pulling for him to bring back something around his neck.”
What to look for
Again, the top three safeties are set. The one question is how ready Ebner will be for the start of the regular season. With rugby finishing up on Aug. 11, Ebner would have roughly two weeks of practice before the team's third preseason game. He's obviously in great shape physically. Injuries aside, that should be enough time to prove he's ready to go. It'll also be interesting to see Richards' improvement in his second year.
Brandon King, Brock Vereen, Vinnie Sunseri, Cedric Thompson
King, an undrafted rookie last year, was called up from the team’s practice squad on Oct. 10 and remained on the roster the rest of the way, making his mark on special teams. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be counted on again this season. “I’ve been around the game for a long time now, and I can honestly say that I haven’t seen too many guys as talented as him from a physical standpoint,” Matthew Slater said of King.