When the New England Patriots defense takes the field against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, a group of rookies could take prominent spots. Linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings as well as safety Kyle Dugger are projected to actively help replace the team’s offseason departures at their respective positions.
One thing that does stand out about them, plus the players in whose footsteps they will step, is positional flexibility. While Dugger has lined up all over the secondary in training camp, Uche and Jennings were moved around the defensive front-seven quite a bit as well. Needless to say that all three of them could be given flexible roles during the regular season as well, something head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during a media conference call on Monday.
Speaking specifically about the two young linebackers, he noted the position versatility they bring to the table.
“Those players do have a good degree of flexibility,” Belichick said about Uche and Jennings. “They showed that in college and they’ve shown that here in camp. How it actually plays out, obviously remains to be seen. We’ll have a plan, we’ll have an idea of how we think it will go, or the areas that we want to use them and that may change from week to week and so forth. But, as it stands right now we’ll have something but we’ll have to see how that works itself out. They have a lot of versatility.”
Belichick pointed out that other members of his team offer a certain versatility as well, and said that the Patriots will need to work on finding the right combination. He also acknowledged that it does give the club some flexibility when it comes to attacking the upcoming opponent, something that could become relevant against the Miami Dolphins this week.
“Certainly this week with coach Gailey’s offense... they have the ability to run a lot of different personnel groups. They have a lot of receivers, they have a fullback, they have some different types of running backs. They have tight ends and they have different types of tight ends with different skill sets,” said Belichick. “When you start mixing and matching those different personnel groups, you can come up with a lot of a lot of combinations and somehow defensively, you’re going to have to ready to handle all of them.
“I don’t know they’ll do all in the game but, I’m sure they will somewhere along the line and, you know, you just have to be ready for that. So that’s a challenge for a defensive system and versatility is a key part of that.”
Based on Belichick’s statements about the offense run by new Dolphins coordinator Chan Gailey, both Uche and Jennings could be used quite a lot on Sunday against a multi-faceted attack. How this usage will eventually look remains to be seen, but their NFL debuts could therefore give a preview of how New England projects the two youngsters’ roles within its defense.
One thing does seem certain, though: even with Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins all gone, the Patriots will continue to build their linebacker corps around its members’ versatile skillsets.