Ducks and coverages
Oregon legacy established by Chung
FOXBOROUGH — John Neal arrived at Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School about seven years ago with a lengthy list of football players he wanted to evaluate. Neal, a secondary coach, was looking for future players for the University of Oregon.
Before his visit, Neal saw one player on film he wanted to meet. The kid was charging from the outside and ran over a kick returner without hesitation. That kind of instinct couldn’t be taught, Neal recalled thinking.
A high school coach told Neal the kid he was looking for was Pat Chung. Neal skimmed his list of potential recruits and noticed Chung was listed eighth.
Seven years later, Neal would call Chung one of the most influential players ever at Oregon. He was part of a Ducks secondary that produced NFL picks Jairus Byrd, Walter Thurmond, and T.J. Ward.
One play convinced Neal he needed to get Chung to Oregon.
“I held on to that play for my whole evaluation process with Pat because that’s something I believe I could never coach — that fearless attitude,’’ Neal said. “And that’s pretty much why we decided to offer him . . . I think he had a lot to do with changing our culture here.’’
When Chung talks about his climb to the NFL, he begins with his time (2004-08) at Oregon.
The 23-year-old safety is entering his second season with the Patriots and welcomed another year in an impressive way, wrapping up a team-best (and career-high) 16 tackles in a 38-24 victory against Cincinnati last Sunday. But Chung wasn’t going to anoint the game as evidence of a long journey from his rookie year.
“I haven’t gone anywhere, man,’’ Chung said. “It’s the first game of the season.’’
Chung doesn’t waste words. He takes complex thoughts and breaks them into simple terms. In situations that could become overwhelming, Chung said he finds a way to eliminate the extraneous details.
“That’s just how we were [at Oregon],’’ Chung said. “Wake up that day and worry about what you have to do that day. That’s it.’’
The best example of Chung’s attitude came after the 2006 season with Oregon, Neal said.
The Ducks were coming off a 7-6 season and a dismal 38-8 loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. The coaching staff challenged the players to do more and asked them specifically what they would do to fulfill that goal. Soon Chung began doing push-ups and sit-ups between reps at practice.
“Before I knew it, the whole team was doing it,’’ Neal said. “That year we went and won [nine] games and we went from a team totally in disarray to the next year we were vying for a national championship. I believe Pat had as much to do with that as anybody.
“Pat had a lot to do with helping us create our identity.’’
Chung and Byrd were part of that team. Two years later, Chung was selected by the Patriots in the second round with the 34th overall pick. Byrd went eight picks later to Buffalo.
“We’re very prideful,’’ Byrd said. “We had a lot of pride in our secondary at Oregon and we’re just carrying that into the NFL. We feel like we’re representing for our school and the kind of talent that’s out there.’’
Byrd and Chung maintain a friendship even though they are rivals in the AFC East. Byrd said that on the field there are very few who can match Chung’s intensity.
“Any time he’s out there, he can just run forever. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s that Jamaican side of him,’’ Byrd said with a laugh. “He just runs forever and never gets tired.’’
Ward (Cleveland) and Thurmond (Seattle) are in their rookie seasons, and Neal said that the school keeps up with their former players now in the NFL.
Oregon senior cornerback Talmadge Jackson said part of his reason for choosing Oregon was because of Chung.
“He was one of the coolest guys I ever met,’’ Jackson said. “He had a good work ethic and when I came in I just wanted to emulate him. He had a great attitude every day and was always trying to get better.’’
The success of the Oregon secondary is always on the mind of the current players, Jackson said. The Ducks are off to a 2-0 start, beating Tennessee, 48-13, last week.
“We always talk about what happened in the past,’’ Jackson said. “We have to maintain that standard to be one of the best groups on the field. We don’t want to have a letdown.’’
Chung knows there are plenty of people watching his progress, but he isn’t letting that change his outlook.
“No expectations,’’ Chung said. “Just working and doing what I have to do to try to get the edge on everybody.’’
Patriots defensive assistant Corwin Brown said if there has been any change in Chung’s skills from his first season it has been growth.
“I think it’s more just a maturity thing,’’ Brown said.
“As a staff, we’ve asked him to do some things, just like we’ve asked a bunch of the guys to do some things. He, like everyone else, is working like everyone else to go out and improve and to try to do the things we’re coaching them to do . . . Everybody has their role. I think he’s trying to do his role.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.