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Josh Uche will be ‘a big part of this defense’ in 2022, says Patriots assistant Steve Belichick

Related: Patriots assistant coaches rave about second-year linebacker Cameron McGrone

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

At least statistically, Josh Uche’s second-year jump was more of a hop. Playing 21.3 percent of the New England Patriots’ defensive snaps last season, he registered three sacks and a fumble recovery as well as 12 tackles.

Uche served as the team’s number three option along the defensive edge, offering rotational depth behind starters Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy. Heading into Year 3 in the Patriots’ system, however, the door appears to be open for more opportunities to come his way — a sentiment expressed by outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick this week.

“I see him (as) part of the blueprint, and I see him being an important piece to the puzzle for us going forward,” Belichick said about Uche. “There’s a lot of other factors to it besides just what he’s going to do. We’ve got to see what everybody else does and work the pieces around from there, but I see Josh being a big part of this defense.”

Originally joining the Patriots as a second-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Uche has appeared in 22 games over his first two campaigns in the league. He did improve his numbers across the board from Year 1 to Year 2, but a bigger jump will be necessary for him to develop into a true impact player for New England.

It appears the team’s coaching staff is trusting him to do just that. And at least publicly, the 23-year-old is enjoying plenty of trust from his position coach.

“We’ll see how the competition plays out, but Josh is another guy who’s doing everything right,” Belichick said this week. “He’s putting a lot of hard work in, and he’s setting himself up as well as he could to help us out on the field once we get to camp. It’s all just a building process, and he’s done everything right so far. I’ve got no complaints.”

Whether or not Uche can carry his apparent momentum into training camp and indeed become a cornerstone of New England’s defense in 2022 has to be seen. Frankly, though, the team might not have another choice as to ride with him.

A lack of alternatives is the reason why. Kyle Van Noy and fellow edge Chase Winovich are now off the team — Van Noy was released, Winovich traded to Cleveland — resulting in the position group currently consisting of five players: Pro Bowler Matthew Judon and Uche are atop the depth chart with the rather inexperienced Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings and DaMarcus Mitchell behind them.

Uche ending up as a big part of the New England defense should therefore not come as a surprise. The question is if quantity will also lead to quality.