Over the first three weeks of the 2018 regular season, Ja’Whaun Bentley was on the field for 138 of the New England Patriots’ defensive snaps. Serving as the team’s number three at the linebacker position, the fifth-round draft choice showed considerable potential as a rotational defender at the heart of the team’s defense. Unfortunately, however, Bentley’s 139th NFL snap would have to wait. To this day, it has not happened.
Following their week three game against the Detroit Lions, the Patriots were forced to place the promising rookie on their injured reserve list because of a torn bicep. Bentley underwent surgery a few days later, and as a result had to watch his first NFL campaign come to a premature end. From that point on, there was only one thing the youngster could do for the remainder of his first season as a pro: watch and learn.
Bentley tackled this new situation head-on, and learned the value of observation in the process as he told reporters after the first practice of this year’s Patriots training camp: “Obviously, you want to be out there with your guys, so you just find a new role on the team, whether it is being a good observer, just being ready, period, no matter what the situation may be. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
“I feel like one of the big ways of learning is observing, whether it’s watching film or watching how guys do things,” continued the 22-year-old, who already was back on the field for New England’s spring practices. “I’m really blessed to have a lot of guys who’ve been playing for many years; to learn from those guys — soaking things up, learning different techniques. It’s just good to have the kind of guys we have on this team.”
Now in year two, Bentley is in a prime position to take advantage of the studying and observing he was able to do while rehabbing from his season-ending injury. So far, the results look encouraging. He saw considerable action during Thursday’s practice and is once again on his way to carving out a role on the team, all while feeling more confident in his position and his surroundings as an NFL player.
“Yeah, obviously,” answered Bentley when asked about whether or not he feels like he would be farther along entering his second training camp than he was at the same time last summer. “Going from rookie year, coming from college, into this year — being around the guys a lot, being in the NFL, period, you get a year under your belt, seeing how things work, seeing how to play different concepts.”
The added experience in combination with the observing and learning he was able to do in 2018 should help the Purdue product take the oft-mentioned second-year step this season. And given the depth and talent New England has at its linebacker position at the moment — from Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy to Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins — he better shows some progress to earn a consistent role on the defense.
“Everybody on the team, you’re looking for a role,” Bentley said. “There’s competition, obviously, but we’re looking to come out here and just compete every day, be the best you can, find your role on the team and do it well at the end of the day. In everything you do, I feel like you’ve got to have some type of confidence, some type of swagger about yourself. But everybody has a role to play. I’m just looking to find mine and do it well.”