New England Patriots Training Camp: Will 2012 Be the "Year of the Safeties"?

James DiMaioCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2012

Jan 14, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots free safety Patrick Chung (25) celebrates during the second half of the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

In 2011, the Patriots had some of the worst play at the safety position in all of the NFL. However, heading toward the start of the 2012 season, the safety position—now with a healthy Patrick Chung and free-agent pickup Steve Gregory—looks like a much brighter position. Both players have looked terrific throughout training camp.

Patrick Chung, Strong Safety

The biggest reason why the safety position performed so poorly throughout the regular season in 2011 was because it was often missing its undisputed leader.

Chung missed eight games last season battling through both a thumb and foot injury, but brought new life to the secondary when he returned for the playoffs.

Now fully recovered from injuries, Chung appears to be building off his strong playoff performance and appears to be making a giant leap forward in his development.

Field Yates of ESPNBoston, who once worked in the scouting department for the Patriots, opined on Chung’s development, writing:

Chung[’s] interception came on a beautiful play in the end zone, as he rose high to snare a Tom Brady pass with one hand. Chung's ball skills continue to impress this training camp, and he looks the part of a very good all-around safety.

Overall, Chung has had his most impressive training camp since entering the league in 2009.

The 2012 season could be the year that Chung finally declares himself as one of the finest young safeties in all of football.

Steve Gregory, Free Safety

Newcomer Gregory was perhaps one of the least talked about free-agent pickups this offseason. However, the former San Diego Charger has already flashed great ball skills and seems to have locked up the starting gig at free safety alongside Chung.

Fitting in well in New England, Gregory is reeking with confidence in not only himself, but in his teammates as well (per Matthew Geagan, CBSBoston):

“We’re the type of guys that can cover. That’s what I do best, cover guys,” Gregory said. “We’ve been flying around trying to make plays on the ball and priding ourselves on working on our communication and things like that. It’s been getting better every day.”

What’s great about Gregory is that he hasn’t just been talking about making plays on the ball; he has actually been doing it.

We all saw Gregory make a pretty ball-bobbling interception off a tipped pass thrown by Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel in the preseason game last week, but what’s more impressive is that Gregory has picked off Tom Brady as well as Drew Brees in joint practices with the Saints (h/t Paul Perillo and Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly). We’re talking about two of the most accurate quarterbacks ever to play the game!

Maybe Eric Weddle—arguably the best free safety in the NFL—taught Gregory a thing or two about being a ball hawk during his time in San Diego.

Between the continued development of the already solid Chung and the emergence of Gregory, the Patriots look fully covered at the safety position in 2012.

If both can carry their early success into the regular season, 2012 might very well be the “Year of the Safeties” for the Patriots—something the team would welcome with open arms.

James is a New England Patriots featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDiMaio for more news and updates. Unless otherwise noted, all training camp observations are first-hand.