PHOENIX - Patrick Chung, starting Super Bowl strong safety - just as everyone in Philadelphia envisioned - was milling about the crowded Media Day floor yesterday at US Airways Center.
"Everything can change in the blink of an eye," Chung said. The context was how he doesn't want to get comfortable, even after starting 15 games for the AFC champion New England Patriots and getting a new 3-year contract earlier this month, reportedly worth up to $8.2 million. But he could just as well have been talking about how in March you're being cut by a team that signed you to stabilize its secondary, you're essentially getting blamed for that unit's struggles, and 10 months later, you're playing for a Super Bowl ring.
Back with the team that drafted him in the second round out of Oregon in 2009, Chung functions in a scheme that seems to fit him better than Billy Davis' Eagles setup did. He plays alongside Devin McCourty, one of the best free safeties in football, instead of next to Nate Allen, which also helps. And he has two healthy shoulders, something that was not the case for much of Chung's miserable 2013 season with the Eagles, when you could have picked almost any game and seen a highlight tape of a tight end or slot receiver catching a short pass over the middle, Chung missing the tackle, and the ballcarrier galloping away. He lost his starting job to a rookie, Earl Wolff, and only got it back because Wolff suffered a serious knee injury.
Ultimately, Chung was the main thing the Eagles wanted to fix on their defense after Chip Kelly's first season; they figured they'd be much, much better with cerebral Malcolm Jenkins in Chung's spot. Jenkins helped, especially in leadership, but as you might recall, it turned out there were other problems.
Chung went back to the Pats on a 1-year deal for backup money. The media there assumed he would mainly play special teams, but Chung won back a starting job in training camp and ended the season as Pro Football Focus' 12th-ranked safety, better than Jenkins (19th). PFF's position rankings can be a little mysterious - the service credits opposing quarterbacks with a 106.8 passer rating against Chung this season, to 81.8 against Jenkins. Chung has the worst passer rating-against of any safety PFF ranks in the top 15, and the most touchdowns allowed (five) in the top 25. But, regardless, in 2013, PFF ranked Chung in a tie for 71st, with a passer rating-against of 129.8.
His role with the Pats this season seems to have been a bit like Nolan Carroll's dime role with the Eagles, only with more snaps, and the Patriots were satisfied with how he performed in it.
"He's done a good job for us," New England safeties coach Brian Flores said yesterday. "He does a good job of tackling, of covering tight ends . . . He communicates well."
Flores said Chung's rebirth "is all on Pat," that it doesn't have much to do with his coaching.
"The day we re-signed him, he came in and I had a long conversation with him. I kind of told him what I expected from him. He came in and did those things. He's seeing the fruits of that, all that work."
Flores said he doesn't think New England's scheme is "entirely different" from what the Eagles do. "Obviously there's a familiarity with what we try to do schemewise, terminologywise, that might have been different for him there."
Flores said it was "a real seamless transition" for Chung, going back to playing with McCourty; Chung said McCourty was "like a brother."
"Sometimes I can just look at him and he knows what I'm thinking," Chung said. "He's easy to communicate with, on and off the field . . . He's our leader out there. He's smart, he's fast, he's strong. He's an all-around player."
McCourty said: "Pat's like a pit bull up front, and I'm like a safety blanket in the back."
Chung didn't want to talk about his Eagles experience when the Birds went to New England for practice and a preseason game in August, and he wasn't much more forthcoming yesterday.
"Life experiences," he said, when asked what he took from his year in green.
His feelings toward Davis, the Eagles' defensive coordinator?
"I like Billy. He's cool, but I'm more focused on this right now . . . Philly's over. I'm on to New England."
What about Kelly and New England coach Bill Belichick? Chung might have had as much exposure to both men as anybody, having played at Oregon when Kelly was offensive coordinator.
"They're both the same," Chung said. "They want to bring the best out of you. They want you to work hard, stay out of trouble."
He said Belichick's practices aren't any easier than Kelly's - even if the tempo is slower, the intensity is extreme. "They're a bunch of minigames."
How much did the shoulder affect his play?
"That's over, man. That's like living in the past. I'm over that right now," Chung said. "It healed on its own, just with rest."
Is the new contract vindication, after seeing his 3-year, $10 million deal with the Eagles go away, having to play 2014 for less than a third of what he'd stood to make in Philly?
"It's good to have some stability and just know that a team wants you," Chung said.