Josh Uche is in the middle of his best season as a pro. The third-year New England Patriots linebacker has registered seven sacks in his last five games, as well as 16 tackles and a forced fumble — proving himself a disruptive player opposite Pro Bowl pass rusher Matthew Judon and even drawing comparisons to future Hall of Famer Von Miller.
How has Uche been able to see such an uptick in production midway through his third season in the NFL? For Patriots head coach Bill Belichick it all starts with his ability to stay on the field.
“The biggest thing for Josh this year has just really been his availability,” Belichick told reporters earlier this week. “Josh is a good athlete. He has good speed off the edge and good pass rush techniques. But you build that through timing, consistency and running games with your teammates and so forth.
“He’s done that since he’s been here, but this year he’s been able to do it on a more consistent basis in practice, in training camp, and really build that continuity — as opposed to kind of being in and out of things; sometimes not fully being available for some of the roles that this year he’s really been available for really almost on a daily basis.”
A second-round selection by the Patriots in the 2020 draft, the Michigan product entered the league with immense potential but a lack of experience: he appeared in 39 games during his four seasons in Ann Arbor, but really only saw extended opportunities in his last two years. Unfortunately for New England, injuries in both his rookie and sophomore campaigns slowed his growth at the next level.
Uche was limited to nine games in his first season with the club due to a nagging foot injury. He finished the season with just one sack.
The following year did not go much better for him. Back, shoulder and ankle issues all led to missed practice and game time, and eventually forced him to miss five more games. His numbers improved across the board — he had three sacks, 12 tackles and a fumble recovery — but his impact on the Patriots defense was again comparatively marginal.
This year, however, he has finally started to put it all together. While a hamstring injury again hurt his availability earlier in the season, he has since been a menace off the edge.
It all goes back to availability, thinks Belichick.
“I think that’s helped him as much as anything, just his consistency and the continuity he’s been able to establish on the practice field,” he said. “Which has carried over into the games, which has carried over into higher production and more opportunities.”