With the exception of his one-year stint in Philadelphia in 2013, Patrick Chung was a core member of the New England Patriots’ defensive backfield each season between 2009 and 2019. He appeared in 163 games for the organization, and established himself as not just one of the better strong safeties in football but a team leader as well.
After opting out of the 2020 season, however, Chung announced his retirement earlier this year. But despite the veteran calling it a career, his impact on the New England locker room can still be felt. Just ask second-year defenders Josh Uche and Kyle Dugger.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, both mentioned Chung as a source of inspiration coming out of their respective rookie campaigns.
“There’s so much more to learn,” Uche said. “I was talking to Patrick Chung the other day and he said something that stuck with me, which was, ‘Learn until you die.’ The moment that you think that you know everything’s the moment you lost. I’m just trying to learn everyday and just get better every day.”
A second-round draft pick by the Patriots last year, Uche appeared in nine games in his first year with the team. Unfortunately, a series of injuries forced him to miss considerable time and never quite live up to his potential in Year 1.
The process of rehabbing from those ailments, however, allowed him to be in the facility at the same time as Chung was finalizing his retirement.
“I was here rehabbing what I had going on, and Patrick was around the time when he retired. He was in the facility during that whole time frame,” Uche said about a meeting during the offseason.
“I got the honor to actually talk to him briefly, and ask him some words of advice, some words of wisdom. And that was one of the things he said: ‘You have to continue to learn. You don’t know it all. You should never go in thinking you have all the answers.’ That’s where it came out when he said, ‘Learn until you die.’ That just stuck with me ever since.”
Neither Uche nor Dugger were able to actually play or even practice alongside Chung as rookies: they both arrived in March, but were not allowed to participate in any workouts due to the league’s Covid-19 restrictions. Just before the start of training camp, the veteran safety then announced his intentions to opt out of the season.
Nonetheless, both remained in touch and were able to learn some lessons from Chung.
“Grab things. Take hold of them. Trust yourself,” Dugger said when speaking about what Chung had told him. “Trust what you’ve learned, what you’ve been taught in my first year. Trust yourself to really be able to take off and use everything, and be able to play faster and allow yourself to be in your own rhythm.”
Dugger in particular will fill a prominent role helping to replace Chung moving forward. The second-round selection already saw some snaps at his old strong safety position last year, and appears to be on his way to become a similar cornerstone of the Patriots’ secondary in 2021 and beyond.
In general, the next generation of Patriots defenders will have to help fill Chung’s role both on and off the field. Dugger and Uche appear to be on a good way already, with the latter also sounding a lot like the retiree when talking about the advice he has given the incoming class of rookies.
“Just keep grinding,” Uche said. “You’re going to face adversity. Things aren’t going to go exactly how you envisioned them in your head sometimes. It’s just all about survival of the fittest, mentally. It’s easy to get drained out mentally and start going through the motions, but you’ve got to push through that.”