The New England Patriots have struggled at linebacker, and one analyst is calling for a change at a crucial spot. The Patriots must shore up the middle as it is clear their current personnel isn’t getting the job done.
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Analyst Calling for Ja’Whaun Bentley to be Benched
The Patriots had an NFL-high eight players opt out of the 2020 NFL season because of concerns associated with COVID-19. Arguably, or perhaps not so much, the most crucial opt-out was from middle linebacker, Dont’a Hightower. The three-time Super Bowl champion is not only a top-notch performer, he’s also an emotional leader who possesses a world-class football IQ.
It’s almost impossible to quantify how much this defense is missing his presence.
Hightower’s replacement Ja’Whaun Bentley has struggled mightily to fill the void. He’s been far from a sure tackler, not nearly the same presence as a blitzer, and his coverage skills haven’t exactly been stellar in the middle of the field.
Because of this, USA Today’s Henry McKenna has made it clear, it’s time for the Patriots to ground him. McKenna wrote after the Patriots’ recent 27-20 loss to the Houston Texans:
“He [Bentley] played poorly, again. It’s time to promote Terez Hall to the starting role.”
Terez Hall is Far More Aggressive and Appears to be a Better Tackler
Hall, a 24-year-old rookie out of Missouri, has appeared in three games and started two while Bentley was injured. While the bottom line result cannot be completely attributed to Hall, but the two games he filled in for Bentley were victories. When Bentley returned last week against the Texans, the entire defense suffered and the Patriots’ modest two-game win streak came to an end.
The middle linebacker is supposed to bring a certain amount of attitude, presence and confidence to the defense. Bentley doesn’t have that in his bag at this point, but Hall seems to bring it in spades. I’m not labeling Hall as Hightower 2.0, but he seems to be a lot closer to the mark than Bentley.
Patriots Must Target a Big, Physical Middle Linebacker in the Draft
The Patriots might feel comfortable moving forward with Hall as their future at inside linebacker, but if they are looking for a potential fit in this year’s draft, there are a couple names to keep in mind.
Northwestern’s Paddy Fisher might be available in the third our fourth round for the Patriots, and his hard-nosed style, size and physicality would seemingly be a fit for what New England needs at the position. Walter Football recently wrote this about Fisher in a scouting report:
Fisher has been a tackling machine for Northwestern over his collegiate career. In 2019, he had his lowest total, 88, but he had 116 in his sophomore campaign and 111 as a freshman. He has also recorded an interception each season and has a total of eight passes broken up. Fisher has quality instincts and is a solid defender with a knack for forcing the ball loose, as he has nine forced fumbles in his career. Fisher may not have the speed, athleticism, and cover skills to be a three-down starter in the NFL. If he shows more pass-coverage skills, he could rise.
Some of the same weaknesses were pointed out in regards to Tedy Bruschi, and we know how that turned out. Nothing is guaranteed, but Fisher is a name to watch.
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