Pat Chung is back, so let's relive the glory days of 2011, where the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl and dejavu'd fans everywhere and where literally anyone could have been tapped to strap up at safety.
Here's the grand list of defensive players who stepped up at safety over the course of the 2011 season:
Phillip Adams (mid season cut)
Josh Barrett (IR)
Sergio Brown (should have been a special teamer)
Pat Chung (missed 8 games)
Rob Gronkowski (technically, on two hail mary plays)
James Ihedigbo (missed 2 games)
Nate Jones (mid-season signing)
Devin McCourty (mostly played at cornerback)
Antwaun Molden (mid-season signing)
Sterling Moore (on-and-off the roster like Ross Ventrone, saved the season as a cornerback)
Matthew Slater (yeah, that happened)
Ross Ventrone (actually Ross Ventrone)
Malcolm Williams (played a few unregistered snaps at safety)
13 players stepped on the field as a safety in 2011. FS Bret Lockett was placed on the IR before the season even started.
They played in front of such legendary figures as Ras-I Dowling (for approximately 6 seconds), Leigh Bodden (for 12 seconds), Kyle Arrington (current CB5), Devin McCourty (current FS1 in the world), Julian Edelman (that happened), and quite literally half of the above list (Williams, Moore, Molden, McCourty, Jones, Adams).
I have given Devin McCourty plenty of leeway and a ton of benefit of the doubt for his production in 2011. He was playing in front of a carousel of safeties that had no business being on the field and was playing on an island against a second carousel of cornerbacks that had no business being on the field. He's since become a fantastic free safety.
Maybe I should offer that same distinction for Pat Chung. He played across from a non-starter every single week. He played behind a non-starter every single week. He was asked to drop back and be a coverage safety when his best work always came in the box and defending the run. They forced him out of position, he couldn't adapt, and was rightfully allowed to leave.
Maybe this time the defense better fits his skills. Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan, and Alfonzo Dennard could have all started in that 2011 secondary. Chung was built for this defense, not the defense he was forced to play.
Maybe this will have a better outcome. But at the very least, this is a reminder of how far this defense has come since the last time they made a Super Bowl.