After releasing linebacker Kyle Van Noy earlier this offseason, it appeared the New England Patriots had work to do at the outside linebacker position. But, as the offseason continues to roll on, New England has done next to nothing in replacing Van Noy’s 480 edge snaps from last season.
The lack of activity perhaps indicates the team is comfortable with what’s currently on the roster. However, outside of Matt Judon, the cast of characters could best be described as uncertain. The group includes Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings, and undrafted free agent rookie DaMarcus Mitchell.
As neither Perkins or Jennings played last season due to injury, Uche could be the main one counted on. After a quiet rookie season in which he flashed his athleticism and ability to get after the passer in limited playing time, Uche’s second season did not live up to expectations. He played just 241 snaps in 12 games, again battling injuries throughout.
Career pass-rush win rates on 3rd-and-4-plus among the 2020 draft class, per @PFF:— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 16, 2022
1. Josh Uche (21%)
2. AJ Epenesa (19%)
3. Alex Highsmith (18%)
T-4. Julian Okwara (16%)
T-4. Chase Young (16%)
6. Darrell Taylor (15%)
7. Yetur Gross-Matos (14%)
8. K’Lavon Chaisson (12%)
Now entering Year 3, it appears the 2020 second-round pick may finally be taking the excepted leap.
Speaking with the media on Tuesday before the Patriots fourth OTA practice of the offseason, Bill Belichick shared that he thinks Uche will be a “big piece of our defense” this upcoming season.
The quote mimics the one of Steve Belichick from several weeks ago:
“I see [Uche] as a big part of the ... blueprint,” Steve Belichick said. “I see him being an important piece to the puzzle for us going forward.”
Through just a handful of OTA practices, it does appear that the Patriots’ coaching staff has big plans for Uche. Despite him playing the majority of his snaps in New England on the edge, he has played more off-the-ball linebacker in a small sample size this offseason. The role is not new to him either, as he played majority off-the-ball throughout his collegiate career at Michigan.
While Bill Belichick said it was a “stretch” to say his new role perhaps replaces the still unsigned Dont’a Hightower — who Belichick then called “one of the best linebackers that’s ever played here” — it appears that’s potentially what the team has in mind for him.
No matter what his role is going forward, just getting Uche on the field would be a big boost to the Patriots defense as they continue to look younger and more athletic entering the season.