NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
After visiting with the New England Patriots for two days in March, free agent safety Steve Gregory agreed to terms with the club on a contract worth $7.05 million over three years.
Gregory received a $2.5 million signing bonus as a part of the deal, prompting widespread speculation that he would start in New England’s defensive backfield opposite Patrick Chung next season.
Gregory started 13 games for the Chargers in 2011 at strong safety following a season-ending knee injury to starter Bob Sanders, finishing the season with 67 tackles, one interception (returned for a touchdown), and three pass deflections. Gregory also started 18 games for the Chargers over the past five seasons, although he was primarily a rotational player and special-teams contributor.
Despite playing strong safety in 2011, many analysts believe that Gregory will be a more natural fit at the free safety spot in New England. Although Gregory was generally listed as a strong safety, the Chargers utilized him in deep coverage more often than expected in their Week 17 win over the Oakland Raiders which allowed Eric Weddle to roam the field.
Gregory does not possess outstanding speed but his technique as well as his instincts allow him to perform single-high coverage effectively; he appears smooth in his backpedal and fluid while flipping his hips and changing directions.
Gregory is a sound open-field tackler although he occasionally takes narrow angles to the ballcarrier after the catch. Gregory also spent a significant amount of time in the box, where he aggressively attacks ballcarriers and does not miss many tackles while also flashing the ability to make big hits; because of his size (5’11”, 195 pounds) the general impression seems to be that Gregory is better suited to the free safety position but he appears capable of assuming a wide variety of responsibilities, which would appeal to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
Based on the Raiders game it is difficult to determine whether or not Gregory can blitz the quarterback effectively or cover inside receivers in the slot because he was not asked to perform either of those roles in the matchup. However, Gregory looks competent in deep zone coverage, active in run support, and projects as a core special-teams player in New England.
I’ve compiled a video of plays Gregory was involved in during the Oakland game; take a look below.