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Patriots safety Kyle Dugger is in a ‘different head space’ entering his third year in the NFL

Related: Adrian Phillips puts his NFL success into perspective

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A second-round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 2020, safety Kyle Dugger has quickly become a valuable member of the team’s defense. Now entering his third season in the system, he appears to be following a pretty straight-forward pattern: gain more experience, gain more confidence, achieve better results.

So far, Dugger’s experience consists of 30 NFL games as well as one difficult transition to the pro level: not only did he enter the league from Division II school Lenoir-Rhyne, he also saw parts of his first two seasons disrupted due to Covid-19.

The pandemic forced the traditional offseason and summer program during Dugger’s rookie year to be altered drastically, and it created a challenging environment for any first-year player. The following season, in 2021, he also had to miss one game after testing positive for the Coronavirus.

Dugger also dealt with several other ailments his first two seasons; last year alone, he made the injury report because of hand, hamstring, knee and ankle ailments. Nonetheless, he has missed just four games while continuously growing his role and importance to the Patriots’ operation.

By all accounts, 2022 will likely be more of the same.

“I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” Dugger told reporters earlier this week. “Not trying to be too comfortable, always trying to look at ways to better disguise or do stuff that’s going to throw the quarterback off or throw the offense off. Never try to get too comfortable, but definitely as far as being able to take risks pre-snap and things like that — I feel better doing stuff like that.”

The Patriots feel confident in Dugger’s development as well. The fact that they put a lot on his plate last season already is proof of that.

Playing 68.7 percent of defensive snaps, he was used all over the formation. Dugger primarily aligned as a box safety or slot defender, but he also played as a deep safety, along the defensive line and split out wide on a regular basis. Additionally, he saw action on all five special teams units.

Whenever he was on the field, the 26-year-old showed that he can be a difference-maker for New England. He registered four interceptions in 2021, notched 88 tackles and forced one fumble.

His ability to impact the game in several ways will again be big for the Patriots heading into 2022. He therefore once again projects as a starter-level in a secondary that is deep at the safety spot.

Dugger, after all, is joined by veterans Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips. The Patriots also added former first-round draft pick Jabrill Peppers to the equation in free agency.

Peppers’ role has yet to be determined, but Dugger is optimistic about how he and the rest of the group will be used this upcoming season.

“Always great to mix things up with similar body types and have similar body types go in a lot of different places, what that allows us to do,” he said. “On any given play, the offense doesn’t really know for sure where we’re are, what we’re doing. It just makes things that much harder for them.”

As for Dugger himself, McCourty and Phillips in particular have been a valuable resource — one he continues to take advantage of even as he himself is adding more experience

“It’s huge, just to be able to talk to them,” Dugger said. “I’m in a little bit of a different head space this year, just with a little bit more experience than last year. But just being able to run ideas by them, kind of get their perspective on things that I might look to do or that I’m going to do is always great and they’ve been super helpful.”

Dugger, McCourty and Phillips will again form the backbone of the New England secondary this season. And even though the unit has seen some changes, most prominently at the outside cornerback position, it should be in good shape as long as those three are on the field.

More experience and an increased level of comfort should help Dugger be there even more often than his first two seasons as a Patriot.