The linebacker depth on the New England Patriots roster has been hit hard this offseason.
The team saw several veteran players at the position depart in free agency. Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts both signed with the rival Miami Dolphins, while Jamie Collins took his talents to the Detroit Lions. Collins led the team in sacks in 2019, with Van Noy right behind him. Roberts was a team captain and also played on special teams in addition to his responsibilities on defense.
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The Patriots drafted three linebackers with their 10 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, but they will need several of the linebackers already on the roster to step up next season and fill the roles of the veterans who recently departed.
One player excited to take his game and role to another level is Ja'Whaun Bentley. The 2018 fifth-round pick impressed as a rookie and played quite a bit of snaps before his first season was cut short due to a biceps tear. He returned in 2019 and played in all 16 of the Patriots' games, tallying 38 solo tackles with one interception and two passes defensed.
Where does Bentley think he's grown in his short pro career?
"I would say, obviously, knowledge – knowledge of the game and being able to kind of be on the field and direct traffic a little bit more coming from college to the pros," Bentley said in a video conference call with reporters Wednesday. "You surround yourself with great veterans, which we have in our organization, so it was a huge opportunity to learn from those guys and kind of implement what you’ve learned and add it to your game. So, I feel like year one to year two, took some good steps, but year three, you also want to take those same progressive steps and take your game to the next level."
One of Bentley's best qualities is his leadership. He was a captain in college at Purdue, and he has shown those same traits in New England. It's a part of his game we could see more of both on and off the field next season.
"I would say that I’ve always taken the approach, in order for you to be a great leader you have to first be a great follower," Bentley explained. "Being in college, you have the opportunity to learn when you get there. You don’t know everything, so you have to go in there and kind of learn the ropes a little bit and take in as much advice and leadership qualities from those veterans.
"It’s the same thing in the pros. You have to find the right guys to surround yourself with, the older guys and the veterans, and pick their brain and be a great follower, see the things that they teach and the things that they emphasize. In turn, you’ll be able to build your qualities and your character traits that you want to use and add it to your repertoire of leading personality traits."
It remains to be seen what kind of role Bentley will play on the Patriots defense in 2020. He also isn't sure what his exact fit will ultimately be, but he's open to helping the team in any way possible.
"Each guy has a role to play. I feel like we stress that a whole lot as an organization – finding your role and sticking with it," Bentley said. "So, whatever that role may be this year, just going to look to progress, as well as find as many opportunities that the team needs to be filled."