The Patriots linebackers will have a positive impact defensively, and will be crucial for the teams success. New, old, and returning Patriots have come together to form a truly scary unit.
The two coaches with the most influence over this group is easily Jerod Mayo(Linebackers Coach) and Bill Belichick(Head Coach/Defensive Play-caller). Luckily for the unit, these two are the best men for the job.
No one can forget Belichick’s genius as a coach. His command for discipline, and the ability to get the most out of his players, is admired around the league. But what some may forget, is that he was a top defensive coordinator in the league during his Giants and Jets days. As a DC for nine years, he led FIVE top-five defenses, three top-10, and only one year of top-15. In that time span he also won TWO championships, both with the Giants. He was widely considered one of the best defensive coaches in the league, even with the help of talents such as Lawrence Taylor. With him as the defensive play-caller for the Pats next year, it means nothing will get lost in translation when talking to players or calling plays.
Jerod Mayo wasn’t just a superb linebacker, but he is also a true leader. He was named captain FOUR times in a row during his playing career. His leadership and experience within the Pat’s system makes this the perfect situation for him to succeed as a coach. He also has connections with the current team, which give him a knowledge of what works best with the group and how to motivate them. His playing style, to me at least, is very similar to that of Collins. He also spent years playing beside Hightower. With all things considered, Mayo was literally the perfect option for the role.
Dont’a Hightower has a vast knowledge of the game, granting him success no matter where he plays or what role he is in. In high school he played linebacker and end on the defensive side. As a senior DE, he had 168 tackles, five forced fumbles, and five interceptions. That campaign was good enough to win him the title 3A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year and The Tennesseans Defensive Most Valuable Player in 2007. At Alabama he broke out in his junior year, where he captained the best defense in the nation. He was a consensus first team all American and a finalist for many awards like the Lombardi Award (best player regardless of position), Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player), Butkus Award (best linebacker), and the Lott Trophy (an award on the person’s character).
This was enough to impress Belichick, who drafted him in the first round. Hightower has impressed in the regular season, and is even better in the playoffs. He is a great all around linebacker who can sneak into passing lanes, stop the run, or blitz. Last year was a comeback year for him after just recovering from a big injury. So this year I expect him back as a star linebacker.
The great Jamie Collins has returned, and for cheap too! Collins has a great IQ for the game. Since he was once a star high school QB, Collins knows how they think. He was amazing in college, collecting 314 tackles, 21 sacks, and three interceptions in his career. Collins also earned first team All Conference honors in his senior year. He is a greatly underrated pro, as in the three seasons he has started over 14 games he has had over 100 tackles, at least three sacks, and one to two interceptions. Just last year he posted the stat line of 104 tackles, four sacks, and one interception, which is a truly great year.
Like Hightower, Collins is also an all around solid linebacker. The only difference between the two is Collins is usually the center of blitzes thanks to his athleticism. Also remember, the Browns cut him because he was overpaid, not because he was bad. He was once spectacular in the Pats system, so why can’t he do it again?
Kyle Van Noy has been underrated for his entire career. In his junior year at BYU he was the leader of one of the best defenses in the nation, and was third-team All American because of it. As a senior he made second team, and also was named to the watch lists for almost all of the awards Hightower was a finalist for. His college career was good enough to be drafted by the Lions in the second round. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to succeed in the organization until his third year. That year he started all of the Lions games, before being traded to the Patriots with a seventh round pick for a sixth.
In his first full season for the Pats, he impressed with five and a half sacks and 73 tackles in 13 games. Last year he was even better, producing 92 tackles, three and a half sacks, and one interception while starting all 16 games. He was also crucial in last year’s playoffs run, averaging one sack and over five tackles a game on route to a championship.
Ja’Whaun Bentley may not have showed us much, but what he has shown is extremely exciting. The young man had a good college career, starting all four years at Purdue. In his last year he had 97 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, and was an honorable mention for 2017 All Big Ten Conference Team. He was also named the defensive MVP of the Foster Farms bowl win over Arizona.
In the three games he played for the Patriots, he displayed the potential to be the best linebacker on the team. He had an interception and 14 tackles, and PFF even gave him a score of 80.7. That score isn’t only the best among linebackers on the team, but it puts him high on the list of the best linebackers in the whole league. I am excited to see how he plays this upcoming year, and I hope he gets the chance to develop and hone his skills.
I’m not going to tell you that Elandon Roberts is a star, because he isn’t. But I will say that he is definitely important. He is the first man off the bench for the Patriots linebacking unit. While he isn’t flashy, he almost never makes mistakes, which is a trait that Belichick loves in his players. Roberts, like most of the Patriots linebackers, was a multi-sport athlete in high school due to his athleticism. At Morgan State college for his freshman year he had 107 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. The 107 tackles marks the second best single-season total in program history. This earned him a move to Houston, where in his senior year he racked up 142 tackles (fourth most in the nation). He fell to the sixth round, where the Patriots snagged him. His play rivals the starters, and will be an important piece this year if the Patriots go on a run in the playoffs or an injury occurs.
Experience, Connections, and Motivations
This group does not need the time to get to know each other and the system. Mayo, as previously stated, played for a Patriots defense which ran a near identical style. Four of the five main players in this unit have played for the Patriots in at least three seasons (counting the half of a season Van Noy played). They have also had at least a basic level of success. All of them also have a type of personality which meshes. Well, maybe besides Collins. The point is, this group doesn’t need time to settle in.
They also have a motivational tool which, has always fueled Patriots championship runs: the wish to prove people wrong. Hightower wants to get back to star form. Collins wants to prove he’s still got it. Van Noy wants to show that last year wasn’t a fluke. Bentley wants to prove that the flashes last season will lead to something, and that the injury hasn’t impacted his career. Roberts wants to show everyone he can compete at the same level as his teammates. This group is like a ticking time bomb, just waiting to burst out and take the league by surprise.
Everything is there for the linebacking unit to be one of the top units in the league and lead the Patriots defense. Now we just need to hope that they recognize it themselves and play to their fullest potential. If preseason/training camp is any indication, they are well on their way.