Kyle Dugger did not have the benefit of playing power five football in college. He did not have the benefit of a normal offseason after entering the NFL. He also did not have the benefit of using the preseason to adapt to the NFL league. And yet, he delivered one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in recent New England Patriots history.
Entering his second year as a pro, Dugger’s goal is to build on this success and get more comfortable within his role in the New England system. One person that should help him accomplish all that is Patriots Hall of Famer Rodney Harrison.
Harrison has taken over a mentorship role for Dugger, and recently spoke with ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss about it.
“Right after the draft, they gave me his number and I just called him. I reached out and talked to him. Even this offseason, I text him and say, ‘Hey, send me some clips you want me to look over of you in coverage,’” Harrison told Reiss.
Harrison spent 15 seasons in the NFL and helped the Patriots win a pair of Super Bowls in the early 2000s. He also earned a reputation as one of the league’s most physical players, and a tone setter in the secondary. Now, the hope is that he will be the same for Dugger: a mentor, and somebody to help him make the famous second-year jump.
At least so far, the youngster has left a positive impression on Harrison.
“I love the kid, his attitude. He’s such a humble kid, and he wants to be really good. He asks questions,” he said.
Dugger himself acknowledged during a recent media conference call that he had studied Harrison during the offseason. Harrison, meanwhile, has given the former second-round draft choice some words of advice as well.
“I’ve been telling him ‘You can cover. You just have to believe in yourself a little bit more. Don’t give those tight ends free releases. Get up there and jam them — you’re a big kid, you’re strong, so get up there and challenge them and don’t make it easy for them,’” he said.
In his first season, Dugger already showed an ability to make positive plays in the Patriots secondary. Playing a role similar to the one Harrison used to fill between 2003 and 2008, he appeared in 14 of a possible 16 games and registered 64 tackles. Down the stretch, the then-rookie carved out a starter-level role in New England’s defensive backfield alongside fellow safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips.
Despite all that, Harrison still sees plenty room for growth.
“In the pass game, I just want to see him play with more confidence. He just has to believe what he sees. I tell him, ‘Believe what you see and go get it! Don’t second-guess yourself! Be aggressive! You don’t need to play careful,’” he said.
“In the run game, I think he’s tough and he’s starting to really see the line-block combinations; when the tight end blocks down and the tackle pulls, where he needs to go, where his proper fit is.”
While it remains to be seen whether or not Dugger can heed Harrison’s advice and become a true all-around safety, the Patriots legend himself is feeling confident.
“Having some veteran players around him, and him continuing to grow, I think he’s going to be a fantastic player.”