Josh Uche had a career year for the New England Patriots in 2022. Besides piling up a career-high 11.5 sacks, his pressure and win percentage ranked near the top of all edge defenders in football.
As the calendar now flips to the 2023 season, Uche has last year’s breakout in the rearview mirror.
“Last year is last year. Can’t cash in on much from last year, it’s a new season,” Uche said in a press conference Thursday. “Just focusing on the next opponent, just improving. It’s a new season, new plays need to be made, new steps need to be taken. Kind of just trying to forget last year and just build and become the best football player I can be.”
Uche’s rise was a large part of New England’s defensive success last season, as the unit ranked tied for third in the league with 54.0 sacks. After combining for just 4.0 sacks in his first two seasons, Uche credited some of the conversations he had with his older teammates, such as Jamie Collins, for allowing him to play more free.
“It was just being more free. Not stressing the things I can’t control and just controlling the controllables for myself,” he explained. “Just going out there and having fun. Kind of when I found my grove I just found myself having a lot more fun and not worrying about the other things. Just going out there and being the best football player I can be and being the best teammate I can be.”
While Uche played free on the field, freeing his mind off the field was just as big of a reason for his improved play. Uche, who has long been an advocator for mental health, used things such as Netflix’s ‘Moving Art’, as well as other nature sounds, and music to help him escape the game.
“One thing that I found helpful to me was after practice or games, just trying to decompress,” Uche said. “Put on something that has nothing to do with football, kind of mediate, pray — I pray a lot, that helps me a lot — and just different outlets that help me decompress from football.
“If you focus on something too much, you kind of don’t see the bigger picture. So, if you can take a step back, see some things you might have lost, improve on, and understand that there’s life outside of football. Being appreciative of that makes you more appreciative of the privilege to play this game.”
While Uche explained he “can’t cash in on much from last year,” he quite literally can with another strong season in ‘23. The 2020 second-round pick enters the final year of his rookie deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. For now, however, that is not on his mind.
“Comes back to controlling the controllables. All I can do is come in each day, work as hard as I can,” he said. “Work on my body, my technique, my mental. The rest will just fall into place, I can’t control that right now. We’re not in the season and I can only control my effort and getting better each day. Eventually, the rest will handle itself.”
In order to improve on his success from last season and improve, Uche has spent the offseason working on all facets of his game. Despite his breakout last season, Uche played just 33.1 percent of the defensive snaps as he was called upon mostly in pass-rushing situations. It will be noteworthy to watch if he can potentially be involved in New England’s early down packages this season.
“Everything under the sun,” Uche replied when asked what aspects of his game he worked on this offseason. “I love football, so I’m trying to be the best I can be, be as prepared as I can be. Coverage, pass rush, run, everything.”
If Uche’s role is similar to that of last year, the former Michigan Wolverine will look to exceed there again, also spending the offseason continuing to add to his pass-rush repertoire.
“Everything. That's what I love to do,” he said of working on his pass-rush skills. “Just consistently watching different guys that I admire throughout the league. Also, I can go back last year and see things I can improve on from my own game and critique and refine that. Along with things I’m learning from other guys too.
“At the end of the day it comes down to doing your job, so wherever I’m needed. Like I've always said, whatever the team needs me to do to win, I’m doing it. That's one thing I've tried to live by since while being here and that's one thing I’m going to continue to live by.”