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Safety in numbers at Patriots Training Camp

A deep and talented safety group headlines a Patriots defense that is off to a fast start at Training Camp.

Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (3).
Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (3).

Three-time Super Bowl champion Patrick Chung was a guest at Patriots practice on Monday and while the team dynamics have certainly shifted since he played his last game in 2019, he should've felt right at home among the team's deep and versatile safety group that appears in the early days of camp to be a budding strength.

"What he did in this defense speaks for itself," said Jabrill Peppers of Chung, after making his debut on Monday and slowly integrating himself into the rotation while listening in to various reps via walkie talkie. "He's definitely somebody I'm glad to have around to bounce a couple of things off of."

Despite returning their top three players in the group -- Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger -- the Patriots continued to add players, many in the mold of Chung such as Peppers, a 2017 first-round pick of the Browns known for his versatility to play in the box and along the line of scrimmage. Add in promising second-year player Josuah Bledsoe, who has also popped in the early going of camp, and the position group is stacked with options.

"Devin obviously knows everything about the defense spending forever here," said safeties coach Brian Belichick. "AP and Dug have been here for a couple of years and they know a lot, they've played a lot of football for us, been very productive, good players for us. And then Peppers and [undrafted rookie Brendan] Schooler are newcomers who have to learn it from scratch and then we got [Bledsoe] who was here last year so he knows what he's doing, but he doesn't have a lot of experience on the field compared to the other guys.

"It's good to have that mix of older guys to help out the younger guys and they're all just out there competing, working hard."

As one of the few veteran newcomers with significant pedigree this season, Peppers is a true wild card for the defense. As a linebacker for Michigan, Peppers did a little of everything in college, returning kicks and punts, posting 125 career tackles, rushing for 239 yards and five touchdowns and even catching 10 passes for 82 yards. While his role in New England is unlikely to be as expansive as it was in college, the veteran is another moveable chess piece who should help the defense deal with the vast array of offenses on the schedule this season.

"The most important thing that I feel is they're all smart football players," said Peppers of his position group. "You know, the physicality and athleticism speak for themselves but they all think the game, see it before it happens. Things like that. You put those guys together, it makes for great room."

Through camp's first six practices all of the safeties have been heavily rotated and involved, presenting defensive coaches with any number of options to consider and play with as they begin to lock in on what kind of game plan defenses they can install for this season. Perhaps the biggest question is just how to maximize the effectiveness of all of them, perhaps even getting the top four on the field at the same time.

"Each player has his own style, and certainly the game's changed a lot through the years, from Lawyer Milloy to Rodney Harris to where we are in 2022," said head coach Bill Belichick prior to Tuesday's on-field work. "But yeah, I look forward to the group that we have. It's a good group and we have a lot of experience with Devin [McCourty]. Younger players, like [Joshuah] Bledsoe or Jabrill [Peppers], who hasn't been here – not that he's a young player, but he hasn't been here – and AP [Adrian Phillips], and [Kyle] Dugg[er], so pretty deep group, pretty strong group. Excited to work with those guys, see if we can get them all out there together and see what it looks like."

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