Ever since the departure of Rodney Harrison from the team after the 2008 season, the New England Patriots have lacked a consistent, hard-hitting strong safety on their roster. They have gone through a SS carousel the past several years the likes of James Ihedigbo, Brandon McGowan, Patrick Chung, Brandon Meriweather, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, Steven Gregory and Adrian Wilson.
Fast forward to the present, and the Patriots are seemingly allowing history to repeat itself. Currently on their roster, they have Chung returning, Tavon Wilson, Harmon and possibly Logan Ryan who can play that position. The issue is that Wilson has yet to prove that he can win a starting job in the NFL, and has so far lived up to the billing of a guy the Patriots reached for in the draft. Harmon has looked decent in limited time as an injury fill-in, but it remains to be seen if he can be an every-down safety in the league, and Ryan has never played a single snap at safety in his short career.
Bill Belichick has said that he would like to get Ryan some reps at safety during OTAs and training camp and that he values his versatility. However, it may take some time for him to get acclimated to playing the position. That fact may take him out of the running to start right away. In the short term, this likely leaves either Harmon or Chung as the odds-on favorite to win the job.
Chung may not be a sexy name for Patriots fans, but he is at least serviceable in the hard-hitting safety role, even if he may lack some ability in pass coverage. He knows the Patriots defensive system well, he knows what to expect from Belichick and the coaching staff and the coaching staff knows what makes him tick, having previously played for the team from 2009-12.
Harmon may have a bit more upside, but he also lacks experience. If Belichick values a veteran presence to lead his defense he almost certainly would choose Chung, but if Harmon impresses in OTAs, he could very well seize the job out of the gate.
One thing is for sure, whoever wins the job will have to meet some pretty high expectations right out of the gate. Fans in New England will be expecting greatness out of the secondary this season, with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner anchoring the cornerback unit and Devin McCourty cemented as the starter at free safety.
If the SS position can be adequately filled this season, the Patriots will have the Super Bowl-caliber defense that they haven’t had in nearly a decade. This position battle will definitely be something to watch closely as OTAs and training camp start to get into full swing.