With long-time veterans Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins all gone, the New England Patriots’ linebacker position underwent a transformation over the course of the offseason. The keys have been turned over to a new generation of players, and a new group of leaders.
One of those is Matthew Judon. A free agency addition last year, Judon already made his presence felt in his first year in the system; he led the Patriots in sacks with a career-high 12.5 and was voted to the Pro Bowl.
Heading into Year 2, he might have to take on an even bigger role not just on the field but off it as well. Needless to say he seems ready for it.
“Judon’s a great mentor,” fellow outside linebacker Josh Uche said following Monday’s training camp practice. “That’s probably one of the best resources that I have in terms of just football knowledge in general. Also a great person, great personality in terms of uplifting guys. It’s just great.
“I get to look to my left and Anfernee [Jennings] and Judon are right there. We’re just talking ball, hanging out, socializing.”
Whereas Uche and Jennings are in their third season in the NFL, Judon is already entering his seventh. Despite the difference in experience, the three defenders are all participating in an active exchange of knowledge that serves one common goal: to make all of them better.
Judon explained it on Monday, pointing out that the bond the three have created started right in the locker room. His locker is next to Jennings’ whose own locker is next to Uche’s.
“That makes us all better, because we all see the game differently,” Judon said. “We might get the same block or the same thing, or we get different stuff because we’re different rushers.
“How we approach the game, how we look at the game, we just see stuff differently and I just played a little bit more football than those guys on different teams, in different systems. I can say, like, ‘If you get this, then do this.’ I think they’re taking that, especially with what the coaches are teaching them, and transitioning out here.”
Uche appears to be appreciative of Judon’s input, especially given that the two are in a similar situation: they are actually on the field, as opposed to the coaches on the sidelines.
“There’s not better teacher than someone that’s gone through it as well,” he said. “They have different insights, different tricks maybe up their sleeve that they can pass down to you. Judon’s not a selfish person. He’s someone that’s definitely open and willing to share and pass the game on to the younger guys.”
A fifth-round selection in the 2016 draft, Judon spent the first five years of his career with the Baltimore Ravens. While primarily a role player early on, he developed into one of the most disruptive pass rushers in football and by 2020 was a valuable member of one of the best defenses in the league.
The Patriots did therefore not shy away from making a major investment last year to bring him in. New England signed Judon to a four-year, $54.5 million contract last March, and he quickly lived up to the hype.
After not registering a sack in his debut versus Miami, he had 6.5 quarterback takedowns over his next four games: during that four-week span, Judon laid the foundation for what would eventually end up as his third straight Pro Bowl campaign.
While not keeping up that relentless pace, Judon continued to be a disruptive presence for the Patriots through the rest of the year. When all was said and done, he had 45 quarterback disruptions to his name as well as one fumble recovery.
On top of his on-field contributions, he also became a tone-setter off the field.
“Matt’s got a lot of good energy, loves football, plays hard,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “Came in obviously as a very experienced player, like all the UFAs do, with at least four years in the system. Good system in Baltimore.
“Like I said, he has good energy, anxious to learn, gave us a lot of productive plays, able to work well with his teammates, like [Lawrence Guy] and [Davon] Godchaux. ... He works well with everybody and is a good communicator. Tough, physical football player.”
Judon may be the oldest and most experienced member of New England’s current linebacker room, but he also remains a student of the game — one that is focused on absorbing as much information as possible to pass it on to younger players such as Uche and Jennings.
“The more I learn the better I can teach and the better I can instill on the younger generation,” he said. “One day, I might be teaching so I’m going to soak up everything that I can learn from — especially somebody like Coach Belichick or Steve [Belichick], [Jerod] Mayo; players like [Devin] McCourty, [Dont’a Hightower] last year, [Ja’Whaun Bentley]. They played a lot of games in the postseason, I instill everything I can from them.”