New England Patriots Links 7/12/12 - Howe: Chung, Gregory & Wilson Locks at Safety

James Ihedigbo catches some Flac during the AFC Championship game last season.

Jeff Howe digs into the safety depth chart and thinks Steve Gregory will be this position's breakout candidate.

Pressure to perform: Patrick Chung has the ability to be one of the biggest playmakers on the Patriots’ defense, and there’s no doubting that he is their best safety. The problem has been with injuries. Chung was held out of eight games last season, which could have been a breakout year due to the turnover at the safety position. He added some explosion to the back end of the defense during his return in the playoffs, and the Patriots need more of that in 2012. It’s an even more important season for Chung due to the fact that it’s a contract year. If he plays well and stays healthy, he could earn a nice deal. But if he succumbs to injuries, it will be more difficult to negotiate a big paycheck.

Breakout candidate: There are some question marks at safety, but Steve Gregory is getting the biggest chance of his NFL career. While Gregory started 28 games in the last three seasons, he was either out of place as a strong safety or stuck in the shadow of Eric Weddle (or a combination of both). Plus, to be realistic, it’s not as easy to garner the same type of spotlight in San Diego as it’s been for players in New England. Gregory can break out in that sense.

Key role player: Nearly a year ago, the Patriots added James Ihedigbo for his special teams contributions. Due to injuries and other roster moves, Ihedigbo turned into the Patriots’ one constant at safety throughout the season. His coaches and teammates were impressed by his leadership and work ethic. It’s unclear what Ihedigbo’s role could be in 2012, but due to his size and strength, the Patriots could use him in sub packages to get him on the field on defense, assuming Chung and Gregory are the starters.

Best depth-chart battle: As previously mentioned, Chung, Gregory and Wilson will be locks. Ihedigbo might not be a lock, but he’s got a good chance to make the team. That leaves Barrett, Sergio Brown, Nate Ebner and Ross Ventrone for — maybe — one last spot. They’ll need four or five safeties depending on health and performance. This might not be a riveting roster battle, but these are some players the team has held in nice regard in recent seasons. Ebner and Ventrone will be candidates for the practice squad, so Ihedigbo, Barrett and Brown will compete for one or two spots. (More...)

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