The New England Patriots’ coaches are usually keeping their cards close to the vest, but even they could not resist speaking highly of Josh Uche this spring. Both linebackers coach Steve Belichick and later even head coach Bill Belichick mentioned the third-year linebacker as a player in line for a bigger role in 2022.
It remains to be seen whether or not such a jump in responsibility will indeed materialize after Uche was employed predominately as a package-specific edge rusher the last two seasons. Training camp, after all, has not yet fully picked up steam and players such as Uche will not show their full potential until pads are put on next week.
That did not stop the hype train from merrily rolling along, however. The conductor this time was offensive tackle Trent Brown, who talked about Uche following Thursday’s practice.
“I think he’s going to have a great year. I think he’s going to have a breakout year,” Brown said about his young teammate. “I think he’s another guy that took strides over the offseason. He’s prepared through the course of the offseason, and he’s ready to go.”
He was asked in a follow-up if Uche was a different player from a year ago. His answer was concise.
“Focused,” he said. “Watch him.”
Uche originally joined the Patriots as a second-round selection in the 2020 draft and has since appeared in 22 combined regular season and playoff games. He registered 21 tackles as well as four sacks and a fumble recovery, but has yet to fully live up to his draft status.
Entering his third year in the system, however, some further development is expected. Uche will have every opportunity to showcase it: the Patriots released fellow outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy earlier this offseason and have an open spot in their starting lineup opposite Pro Bowler Matthew Judon. The 23-year-old appears to be the prime candidate to fill it.
Uche himself, however, is not concerned about his future outlook or the praise he received.
“I’m just focused on getting better, improving each year, being the best player I can be. Just stepping up, do what I have to do,” he said.
“I just have to keep my head down, just focus on the step ahead. I have to take things one step at a time and by the time I look up I’ll be where I want to be. So, just one day at a time, one step at a time.”