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From Patrick Chung to Kyle Dugger, No. 23 represents the Patriots’ past and future at the safety position

Related: Patrick Chung’s presence can still be felt in the Patriots locker room

NFL: OCT 18 Broncos at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When Patrick Chung returned to the New England Patriots after a rather unsuccessful one-year stint in Philadelphia, he ditched the number 25 jersey he had worn during his first four seasons with the organization in favor of No. 23. After his return and jersey number change, Chung would become a cornerstone of New England’s second dynastic run and synonymous with that new number.

Earlier this offseason — after playing a combined 106 games and winning three Super Bowls with the number 23 on his jersey — Chung announced his retirement from the NFL. No. 23 will not remain vacant, though, as fellow safety Kyle Dugger will wear it beginning this season.

Before taking it, however, Dugger reached out to Chung to ask for his blessing.

“He asked me for the number, and I said, ‘Yes absolutely,’” Chung recently told reporters at a New England Free Jacks rugby game (via ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss). “I told him to take it over, and I pray to God that he’s way better than I am because that would help us as Patriots. Hopefully he gets to that point. I believe he can, he has all the intangibles. So, I’m praying for that.”

Chung, a co-owner of the Free Jacks, also noted that he appreciated Dugger getting in touch with him about taking over his old number. The youngster had originally worn No. 35 during his rookie season, but was planning to make an offseason change.

“It was simple, he just asked me,” Chung said. “I was like, ‘Is that what you want?’ He goes, ‘That was the plan.’ I said, ‘Alright, take it. Just make sure you take over.’ That was it.

“That shows respect. A lot of people don’t have to ask. If it’s open, they’ll take it, but for him to call me and ask when he didn’t have to, I appreciate that.”

Dugger’s respect for Chung is obvious, even though the two men never had an opportunity to share the field together. Three months after Dugger was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft, Chung announced his decision to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the Coronavirus.

Still, the now-former Patriots captain feels strongly about his potential heir.

“I think he can be really good. I mean, he’s young; he’s raw; he has the size; he has the instincts,” Chung said about Dugger.

“He’s a good player. Hopefully he can be great, and hopefully better than me. I really, truly hope for that. We’ll go from there.”

Dugger will enter his first season as No. 23 coming off an impressive rookie campaign. Even though he did not have a traditional offseason or preseason due to Covid-19, he still managed to develop into a starter-level defender for the Patriots. Dugger, who was on the field in 14 of the Patriots’ 16 games as a rookie, was one of the few positives coming out of New England’s challenging 2020 campaign.

Along the way, Chung developed a mentor role despite not being in the building during the season

“Grab things. Take hold of them. Trust yourself,” Dugger said earlier this offseason when talking about the advice Chung had given him. “Trust what you’ve learned, what you’ve been taught in [your] 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.”

The Patriots obviously hope that Dugger will be able to do that, and maybe carry on the legacy of Chung and his old No. 23 jersey.