A New England Patriots linebacker room that saw Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts exit in free agency will now enter 2020 without a constant in Dont’a Hightower.
But Ja’Whaun Bentley, entering his third NFL season, is in line to fill part of the gap that opened when the perennial Patriots captain opted out due to coronavirus concerns.
“We’re always talking,” Bentley said of Hightower during his video conference from Gillette Stadium on Wednesday. “He’s definitely on my list of people to talk to, whether it be about leadership or anything. Along with him, we’ve got a lot of great vets that I’ve been surrounded with over my past two years since I’ve been with New England. You’re always picking those guys’ brains, seeing different things that you can bring to your game.”
Bentley saw his rookie campaign end on injured reserve due to a torn biceps after three games and two starts. He returned to appear in every game for New England last season while starting a pair and logging 27 percent of the snaps. His career spans 58 tackles, with three for loss, and one interception.
But Bentley finds himself among the more seasoned members of a depth chart that includes rookies in Michigan’s Josh Uche, Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings, Wyoming’s Cassh Maluia and Arkansas’ De’Jon Harris.
He will turn 24 during training camp this August in their company.
“Obviously, this is a very unique situation and a lot of the things they’re experiencing, I didn’t have to go through,” Bentley told reporters. “We didn’t have a virus out there, a pandemic going on and things like that. So, I’m helping those guys along any way I can. It’s definitely a great thing for me to do and for me to continue doing. We have a lot of smart rookies, too. That’s always a plus.”
Bentley has spent time wearing the green dot of defensive communication on the back of his Riddell helmet for New England. Relaying the calls like Hightower has is something the former fifth-round pick may soon do again.
“If that’s the role that I have to take on, which is highly likely, we have to be able to adjust to that,” Bentley said. “Everybody has a role to play, and if that’s what mine will be, then I have to do that and do my best to do it very well.”
But Bentley, who served as a three-year captain for the Purdue Boilermakers, knows not all roles are assigned with stickers.
“I’m a big advocate for not forcing a leadership role,” he said. “Leadership finds you. It finds you and you react. You never force the leadership position – you let it happen. I’m a big fan of that.”