Patriots have high hopes for DB Gregory
From growing up in Brooklyn to his playing days at Syracuse, from not getting selected in the 2006 draft to starting at safety in San Diego, Steve Gregory has never taken anything for granted.
The NFL, after all, can be a tough place. He's happy to still be in it.
''It's been heck of a journey,'' the six-year veteran said. ''I can remember coming from college and just stepping into camp as that guy that's sixth string on the depth chart, and just hoping you could stick around.
''To get to this point in my career where I'm at today, it makes me proud, but there's still a lot of work left ahead of me. I still have a lot of football left to play. I'm still just as motivated and focused as I was back then.''
That's good news for the New England Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32), because they clearly need a kick-start in the secondary. Something, anything to improve a defense that ranked 31st last year in total yards allowed.
Perhaps Gregory's it.
After starting 13 games last season for San Diego, Gregory signed with New England during the offseason as part of the organization's effort to stabilize that defense. When Gregory received a call from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the decision was simple.
''It's just a great opportunity,'' he said. ''I'm from the East Coast, love being back out here. It was kind of a no-brainer.''
Gregory, 29, has started alongside safety Patrick Chung since the beginning of training camp, developing a rapport along the way, and has impressed coaches ever since his arrival.
''He's a versatile player,'' Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said. ''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 himself into our system well.
''He's done a nice job to this point. He's been here since Day 1 of the offseason. And so far, so good.''
The relationship with Chung, Gregory said, is of the utmost importance as the Sept. 9 season opener draws closer. While Gregory's professional experience doubles that of Chung, the two actually complement one another because Chung has spent the duration of his young career playing in New England's defense.
''He's a guy that's passionate about football like I am,'' Gregory said. ''It's good to have a guy out there that wants to make plays, and you start making plays and it's kind of like a competition. Who can make more? It's great to have him back there with me.''
On Tuesday, Gregory intercepted quarterback Tom Brady during the afternoon session, and the latter vented his frustration afterward.
''We've got to make it hard on him,'' Gregory said, ''so it's easy for him in the game.''
Practicing against one of the most potent offenses in the league has certainly been a welcome challenge, too.
''It makes you better when you go out there and practice against guys like that,'' he said. ''It gives you an opportunity to work on your skills, work on your technique against some of the guys that do it the best at a high level.''
That's been Gregory's thought process since he first started.
''Right now, we're just focused on doing our thing, getting better as a defense and getting better at the things that we're running,'' he said. ''So, we don't compare it to other offenses or anything like that. We're just focused on getting better.''
He's maintained his focus, all along. Especially as he watched the draft come and go, never hearing his name called after a memorable career with the Orange.
''It was kind of up in the air,'' Gregory said. ''I wasn't touted as a first-rounder or anything.''
But the Chargers didn't care. They gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent, and he worked his way up through special teams.
''Experience builds confidence,'' he said. ''The more I play, the more I learn.''
Yet no matter how much he plays, he'll always carry that chip on his shoulder. The one that reminds him where he really came from. His diploma may read ''Syracuse,'' but his mindset says otherwise.
''Undrafted university'' he joked. ''Right?''
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL