With the Patriots riding a 4-1 record over their last five games, the rookies have helped get the season back on track. Their rapid development is starting to pay dividends after enduring one of the most challenging scenarios for anyone who's ever entered the league.
Defensively, Kyle Dugger continues to be at the forefront of the class. After missing losses to the 49ers and Bills, then playing just four snaps in the win over the Jets, Dugger has started and played a majority of the last four games and continues to make significant strides in his development.
"His tackling's been good, physicality's been good, and as he gains experience, his recognition and all that is improving rapidly," said head coach Bill Belichick last week of the rookie second-rounder.
"Every play, every snap is a learning experience and it's all great, especially after the game you can watch film and you can see different things and you just continue to carry it with you and continue to grow throughout the season," said Dugger on Tuesday from Los Angeles.
Dugger's selection from small school Lenoir Rhyne came with some questions. How the Patriots could invest a second-round pick on a player who would have to make such a major jump in competition? But so far, Dugger has proved the doubters wrong, earning a role on defense that seems to expand and evolve each week.
"I tried to go into this year with no expectations on myself for what my role will be with the team," said Dugger, who credited Patrick Chung for being available for advice throughout the season.
"He definitely still chimes in and helps out," said Dugger of the Patriots veteran safety who mastered a major portion of the position Dugger is now playing. "Gives a lot of tips, things to look for when going into the game. Anytime he chimes in I'm definitely always listening and trying to pick up whatever he's telling me."
Some of Chung's advice?
"Being patient, especially in coverage and kind of just being physical and using whatever tools I have," said Dugger.
With his first four starts under his belt, Dugger is eager to stay on track, focused on the business-trip mentality as the team awaits their second-straight game in Los Angeles.
"It's been huge just knowing my teammates and my coaches have trust and confidence to put me out there to start the game," said Dugger, "It also has made me locked in even more knowing that they're trusting me with that role."
With four games to go and a playoff spot still on the line, Dugger figures to have a big impact on how the Patriots' fate unfolds. But regardless of the 2020 ending, his future in New England looks bright.
Webex Quotes of Note
Matthew Slater on being back at UCLA:
"Those guys have been giving me a hard time all week. It's great to be back here, this place means so much to me for so many reasons. I truly believe some of the most important, formative years happened at this university. When I say that I mean well beyond what happened on the football field. I came in here a 17-year-old kid and left a man who had a better understanding of who I want to be."
Lawrence Guy on the team coming together:
"Yeah, I feel like we are getting to know our identity. At the beginning of the season we struggled, we had a lot of close games. We were trying to glue it all together. I feel like we're playing good as a team, it's not just one individual aspect, we're playing good together, the team is having good games. When you're able to do that, the sky's the limit."
Ja'Whaun Bentley on taking a look at the Super Bowl 53 film:
"Of course, you go down to the last time we played them, obviously it was a huge game for us but that was about two years ago, so they have different players, different coaches in some areas. Looking to see what happened, learn from what we could do better and add different things to be more effective."