July 27, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory walks onto the field during the training camp at the team practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE

New England Patriots utilizing Steve Gregory properly

New New England Patriots starting free safety Steve Gregory spent the previous six seasons with the San Diego Chargers after being undrafted out of Undrafted University- er Syracuse. Gregory grew into a significant role off the bench for the Chargers, but they never used him right. He accumulated 235 tackles, four picks, and 17 tips for the team, and he had 67 tackles in 2011 as well as 71 with six PDs in 2009.

Despite the solid statistics, Gregory was actually an underwhelming player for the team. For instance, he was poor in coverage last season and did not enjoy a quality year before being signed by the Patriots in the offseason. Part of the reason why is because they shifted him at different positions (both safety spots and nickel corner) instead of using him at one position. He also had to play behind Eric Weddle, which basically stuffed him on the depth chart.

Versatility is a key quality in this league and Steve Gregory has that, but the problem was that San Diego was using him in too many different spots. There were instances when he would be playing at the line of scrimmage and would then use him in weird coverages. He struggled last season in coverage overall, but he definitely showed flashes and made plays.

The big thing is that he has taken the next step with the New England Patriots and looks far more comfortable with his new team. One of the reasons why is because the Pats are allowing him to start at the position he is best at, free safety, instead of spreading him all over the field. He is a consistent veteran who is intelligent on the field, but I think he had difficulty covering receivers last year because of the various alignments.

It sounds like a crutch argument, but continuity is something that helps players an awful lot in this league. Gregory’s rise from a backup to a starter with San Diego was great, and now he’s making an even bigger ascension to the level of “good starter” in New England. He has been a standout in camp thus far with three interceptions, and he also picked off a pass in the team’s first preseason game.

As expected, Steve Gregory is bringing consistency and veteran know-how to the team. He is an instinctive player, and he and Patrick Chung are making a great safety pairing. Gregory is the consistent player who is solid in coverage, while Chung is the playmaker who makes big plays in run defense. I love what the Pats are doing with Gregory, and that is allowing him to flourish at one specific spot. It’s exciting to have a consistent player at free safety for a change, and he is a tremendous upgrade over the guys the team played last year.

“They played him a little bit at their money position or in some of their dime packages, played him close to the line of scrimmage. Steve has done a nice job. He’s a versatile player; he was able to do a number of different things in San Diego’s defense. I think some of the things that we’re doing are a little bit different, just systematically but he’s indoctrinated myself into our system well. He’s done a nice job to this point. He’s been here since day one of the offseason and so far so good.”

That quote above is from director of player personnel Nick Caserio, and I want to key in on the second half of that quote. Caserio is saying that the Patriots are doing small things to help Gregory out and make him a more successful player in a scheme that he fits better. It’s working, and Gregory has been the star of the secondary so far this offseason. It’s great to see an undrafted player turn into a solid starter, and the decision to sign him in the offseason has worked extremely well for the Patriots up to this point. Some outsiders criticized the move, but the organization has obviously made the signing work in their favor by changing things around to help Gregory become a successful player. He was a good role player for San Diego, but he has the makings of a good starter for New England.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Eric Weddle New England Patriots Nick Caserio Patrick Chung San Diego Chargers Steve Gregory Syracuse

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