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Patriots vs Cardinals rookie review: All six first-year players see notable action against Arizona

Related: Patriots vs Cardinals snap counts: Damien Harris is New England’s RB1 even with Sony Michel back

NFL: NOV 29 Cardinals at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots bounced back nicely from a disappointing defeat in Houston the previous Sunday by beating the visiting Arizona Cardinals in Week 12. The 20-17 victory, which came on a last-second field goal, did not just improve the team’s record to 5-6 on the season, it also saw the rookie class take another step: New England’s first-year players were actively involved in the victory.

With that being said, let’s review their performances from this weekend.

S Kyle Dugger

  • Defensive snaps: 54 of 74 (73%)
  • Special teams snaps: 3 of 22 (14%)

Kyle Dugger had an up-and-down day in Houston last week but rebounded well versus Arizona. Seeing considerable action as the Patriots’ number four defensive back in terms of playing time — only Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson played more snaps — the second-round pick served primarily in his usual role as a box safety but also was used deep and in the slot on occasion.

Dugger’s impressive athleticism and constant growth were on display throughout the game, as he too is quickly growing into a player that should be a key piece of New England’s defense for the foreseeable future. Together with Adam Butler, Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and J.C. Jackson, he is forming the young core of New England’s next defensive generation.

OT Michael Onwenu

  • Offensive snaps: 53 of 53 (100%)
  • Special teams snaps: 4 of 22 (18%)

Michael Onwenu’s terrific rookie season continues. Starting his sixth straight game as the Patriots’ right tackle, the youngster once again looked very good as a pass protector — he allowed just one quarterback disruption all day — and also took a step forward coming off an inconsistent game as a run blocker. Week after week, Onwenu continues to prove that he is one of the NFL’s best rookies this season and a foundational player for New England’s offensive line for years to come.

LB Anfernee Jennings

  • Defensive snaps: 14 of 74 (19%)
  • Special teams snaps: 9 of 22 (41%)

While Anfernee Jennings was used mostly as an off-the-ball linebacker the last three weeks, the Patriots returned him to the edge against the Cardinals: all 14 of his defensive snaps came as an outside linebacker, and he registered one quarterback hurry along the way. While the third-round pick is still only a rotational option in the front seven, it is encouraging to see New England’s coaching staff giving him various looks to possibly groom him into a move option à la Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins.

LB Josh Uche

  • Defensive snaps: 16 of 74 (22%)
  • Special teams snaps: 5 of 22 (23%)

The Patriots’ other Day Two linebacker is continuing to play the role he was given basically since his second game back from injured reserve (Week 9 against the New York Jets): Josh Uche played on the edge as the rotational third outside linebacker behind Chase Winovich and John Simon. While his role might change depending on Jennings’ future usage and Shilique Calhoun’s possible return off IR — he is eligible to come back this week — it seems New England is happy with using him in that capacity.

Uche did look good in this role versus Arizona. He registered a quarterback hit and also was able to flush quarterback Kyler Murray out of the pocket with a patient pass rush on Winovich’s de facto sack (Murray ran out of bounds with Winovich the nearest defender) in the second quarter.

OT Justin Herron

  • Offensive snaps: 15 of 53 (28%)
  • Special teams snaps: 4 of 22 (18%)

After being activated off of injured reserve just one day before the game, Justin Herron saw a surprisingly high number of snaps. Serving as a rotational left tackle alongside starter Jermaine Eluemunor — usual number one option Isaiah Wynn was placed on IR ahead of the game — the sixth-round pick was on the field for 15 of the Patriots’ 53 snaps on offense. Herron did not stand out, which is pretty much a good thing to say about a rookie offensive lineman in just his seventh game as a pro.

CB/S Myles Bryant

  • Defensive snaps: 13 of 74 (18%)
  • Special teams snaps: 4 of 22 (18%)

Myles Bryant was a healthy scratch last week with the return of Stephon Gilmore to the lineup, but the Patriots decided to use him once more versus Arizona — his fourth in-game appearance this season, and most active one to date in his role as a defensive back. All in all, the undrafted free agent played 13 defensive snaps and finished the game with three tackles — including one shared for a loss of yardage. It was a solid outing as New England’s number five at the cornerback position, ahead of former second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams.

RB J.J. Taylor

  • Inactive

J.J. Taylor was ruled out because of an illness last week, and now slowed down by a quad injury. Even when healthy, though, it appears that his status as a developmental emergency option will not change — despite the fact that Rex Burkhead suffered a season-ending knee injury last week: he is the fourth option behind Damien Harris, Sony Michel and James White, and as such the first layer of depth but not much more at this point in time.