When you love a football team, the way many NFL fans do, you can spend the offseason arranging the players on your favorite squad as if they’re pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. You slot starters here, you stow reserves there, till you reach a final roster of 53–and a practice squad of 10 more.

For fans of the New England Patriots, safety Patrick Chung was no sure bet to be part of the assembled picture last summer. Having started his career with the Patriots as a second-round draft pick in 2009, Chung played four years with the Patriots on his rookie contract. After the 2013 season, he signed a three-year, $10-million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

For NFL players, reaching that so-called second contract (the contract after your rookie deal expires) is an accomplishment. It means you’ve survived at least four seasons in a cutthroat league. It also means your talents are valuable enough to elicit competitive bidding among multiple teams. So you could not be faulted for believing Chung’s second contract was a sign of success–a milestone.

But a funny thing happened during the 2013 season. Though the Eagles finished 10-6 and made the playoffs, Chung struggled. The Eagles released him after the season. “It was hard not to interpret his release after one season as a sign that Chung was a big part of the Eagles’ problems in 2013. Their secondary led the NFL in touchdown passes allowed,” said Phil Sheridan on ESPN.com.

So the Patriots invited Chung, now a player without a team, to camp last summer. And Chung entered his offseason training aiming to revive his NFL career–and once again be a key piece in a team’s roster puzzle.

“He didn’t quite have the season he’d wanted to have,” recalls Brett Bartholomew, the trainer with EXOS (formerly Athletes’ Performance) who worked with Chung this past offseason. “But he came in here and worked. He put his nose to the grindstone. It shows that even the greatest athletes are not immune to the ebbs and flows of careers.”

According to Bartholomew, there were three keys to getting Chung back on track:

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