Patriots

Kyle Dugger a ‘completely different player’ in second season with Patriots

Dugger says his comfort level with the defense has improved tremendously after a "below-average" rookie year.

Kyle Dugger Patriots
Kyle Dugger. Kathyrn Riley/Getty Images
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If you think the Patriots and their fans have high expectations for second-year safety Kyle Dugger, you should watch Dugger talk about what he expects from himself.

It’s not so much what the understated young player says. It’s the way he says it — the way you can see the wheels turning as he tries to maintain perspective while knowing how great he wants to be.

Dugger’s rookie season saw its share of flashes as the hard-hitting, athletic defender flew in to make tackles or blow up blockers with his explosiveness.

But when asked about his own assessment of his first NFL season, he revealed he was far from satisfied.

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“Below-average,” he said when asked how he’d grade his rookie year. “It was fun to get the experience and be out there, but it wasn’t a great year.”

That’s why Dugger put in the work this offseason to make sure he’s now “miles ahead” of where he was last year with the 2021 season swiftly approaching.

“Night and day,” he said. “Just looking at the first couple days of (2020 training) camp, it’s a big difference. I’m like a completely different player, and that’s great to see, and I can feel that, as well.”

What’s better in particular?

“Everything. Just the comfortability, the urgency, knowing where I’m supposed to be, and kind of just being calm in it, but still knowing where I need to be, getting there on time, communication. Everything is just a big difference in the pace and the player.”

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Offensive players, beware.

The 2020 second-round pick comes into this season behind veteran Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips on the depth chart. But that doesn’t mean he won’t have a significant role on this year’s defense.

Dugger, who emerged as a starter late in the 2020 season, could prove to be the kind of chess piece Bill Belichick defenses covet.

In addition to the in-the-box role he played last year — including some run at linebacker — he had plenty of snaps as a slot corner and free safety. That sounds a lot like former do-it-all safety Patrick Chung — the man whose number he now wears.

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“I’m still looking to do whatever I’m asked,” he said of being a successor to Chung’s multidimensional skill. “So whatever they tell me to do, just be ready to lock in and do it and have a leadership role and a voice in his absence.”

His veteran teammates are noticing. Edge rusher Matthew Judon, a new arrival in New England, said he expects big things from the young Patriots safety when talking to reporters Thursday.

“I think the biggest jump is between Year 1 and Year 2,” Judon explained. “[Dugger’s] seen it before, now everything’s not new to him. So he’s going to be able to play faster and player smoother…I think last year for the rookies was a very tough one. For them going through that, it’s going to make them so much better in the future. So, we gotta see what he’s going to do on the field, but for right now, he’s looking really smooth.’’

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