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Patriots linebacker Anfernee Jennings used 2021 to ‘create my own identity.’ Now he is reaping the rewards.

Related: Patriots training camp notebook: Young linebackers have impressive days on Tuesday

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Two years into his NFL career, Anfernee Jennings has not yet lived up to his draft status. The former third-round selection saw only inconsistent opportunities during his 2020 rookie season with the New England Patriots before spending all of 2021 on the sidelines.

His sophomore campaign was a challenging one throughout, but it also helped Jennings grow as both a football player and as a person. Following Wednesday’s training camp practice, he spoke about his experience and how he tried to make the most out of it.

“I matured a lot, on the field and off,” Jennings said. “I had a lot of time to myself, a lot of time to just reflect and evaluate; edit my lifestyle, edit what I was doing on and off the field. Create my own identity.”

Jennings entered the 2021 season expected to compete for an increased role on the defensive side of the ball, but he instead faced several challenges. The death of his grandfather forced him to miss some time during the summer, and he later ended up being sent to injured reserve because of a mystery ailment.

Almost a full year later, Jennings is now back at full strength and participating in his third training camp. Needless to say that this in itself presents a step in the right direction for the 25-year-old.

“The big thing with Anfernee is he’s out there,” said head coach Bill Belichick earlier this week.

“He’s been out there every day. He’s working. Of course, if you’re working, you’re improving. It’s good to have him out there and he’s made progress every day. He’ll get some good opportunities coming up in the near future along with some other guys at that position and we’ll see how it turns out. But it’s good to have him out there.”

Jennings himself echoed Belichick’s remarks (despite actually not having heard them), pointing out how he emphasized making himself available again during the offseason.

“If you’re healthy, you can play,” he said. “My number one focus was being healthy and staying out there on the field and do what I need to do in the offseason to be back out there. I’m here and I’m ready to go.”

Eight practices into New England’s training camp — including three in full pads — Jennings has shown that he is more than just a participant; he is actively pushing for added responsibilities in the team’s rebuilt linebacker group and some prominent playing time.

Thursday’s session was therefore an encouraging sign. With Pro Bowler Matthew Judon absent, Jennings earned himself some starter-level reps; he was uneven in 1-on-1 work but had a solid performance setting the edge against the run in team drills. Most importantly, though, he was out there and competing with the top-level player on offense and defense.

For as difficult as his 2021 season was, Jennings has been able to make the most out of it. Now it appears he is reaping the rewards of this process.