Patriots: Now in his third season, Dugger set up for a big year

Since being drafted in 2020, it’s clear that the guy Bill Belichick drafted from little-known Lenoir-Rhyne has become one of his best picks during a shaky few years of drafting.

Kyle Dugger is entering his third season and with guys like Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips on the back nine of their careers, Dugger is slowly moving into that “next guy” role in the back of the secondary.

There are still questions about Dugger’s coverage ability, but the majority of training camp practices thus far haven’t really provided any moments that would make you worry about him all that much. Dugger’s ability to help stop the run is well established, but with guys like DeVante Parker and Tyquan Thornton adding an element of speed to the offense, it’s making Dugger and his fellow teammates in the secondary that much better early on.

“It’s been good, definitely huge on the deep balls and high pointing, it’s always a great look and competitive to go against him,” Dugger said when asked him what it’s been like going against a guy like Parker. “It’s doing nothing but helping us.”

Communication is obviously key in the secondary, and with more tenure as a Patriot under his belt, Dugger feels like the chemistry is getting stronger every day. So far in camp, the defense has outplayed the offense significantly through seven practices.

“It’s getting better every day,” said Dugger. “Definitely a huge emphasis for us and it’s been growing by the day, with (Wednesday) probably being one of our better days, so we’re definitely just trying to keep building on that.”

Dugger acknowledged that having the ability to continue learning early in his career from guys like Phillips and McCourty is vital to his growth.

“It’s huge,” he said. “Just being able to talk with them in a little bit of a different headspace this year, just with a little bit more experience than last year, just running ideas by them and getting their perspective on things I might like to do or things I’m going to do has been great. It’s been super helpful being able to learn from them.”

To say the offense has looked frustrated so far would be an understatement. Has Dugger been able to sense that frustration?

“I don’t know if I can call it frustration, but I know when we win a rep, it’s definitely not the best feeling (for the offense), the competition is definitely up,” Dugger said. “They’re just trying to get better just like us, so I’m sure they’re not feeling the best whenever we do well.”

Since the defense has made life miserable for the offense, it’s pretty stunning how quickly the unit seems to be on the same page after the way last year ended and with some new faces like Jabrill Peppers or rookies Jack and Marcus Jones now in the mix too. Even Dugger has been surprised by it.

“Just how fast we are kind of gelling together,” he added. “It seems like we almost didn’t have an offseason the way we’ve kind of just been able to grow and learn one another and have camaraderie and things like that.”

Technically, this is Dugger’s third season, but with a Covid Year for a rookie campaign, we might often forget that the young thumping safety is still learning the ropes in all aspects of his game at the NFL level.

There’s a very good chance Dugger and a guy like Christian Barmore are two of those “cornerstone” guys for the next decade, and the 2022 season is a huge opportunity to take that next step. There’s no reason to believe Dugger can’t be in the All-Pro conversation and he seems ready to take that challenge on.