The New England Patriots might have the best linebacker group in the NFL by the time the midpoint of the 2021 season rolls around.
Some might consider that a bold prediction, but there are several reasons to feel confident about the second line of the Patriots’ defense, not least of which is the potential of second-year pro Josh Uche.
After enduring a rookie season curtailed by injury and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on a first-year player’s development, Uche has been impressive at OTAs and during the team’s mandatory mini-camp.
There has been no shortage of colorful adjectives and superlatives used to describe Uche’s effort and athleticism.
The Athletic’s Jeff Howe wrote:
“Josh Uche practices with his hair on fire. He was disruptive once again, although he jumped offsides for the second consecutive practice in front of the media.”
Uche has been a constant in the Patriots’ offensive backfield, and there are high hopes he continues this trend into the regular season.
Uche is a Part of a Team of Talented Pass Rushers
When you group Uche’s expected development in with the stock of versatile linebackers Bill Belichick has added to his roster, the return of leaders Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, it is clear to see why the Patriots have such high expectations on defense. As long as they steer clear of multiple major injuries at linebacker, the Patriots’ defense should be fine.
One interesting question to ask is whether or not Uche’s pass rushing ability will make his former college teammate Chase Winovich expendable.
Winovich was a non-participant in most of the offseason programs, and he has been in and out of Belichick’s doghouse during his brief stint with the Patriots. Winovich’s primary skill set is rushing the passer, but with Van Noy back and Uche emerging, will Winovich get less snaps, and if so, will the Patriots look to trade him for a late-round pick?
He’s already been described as “expendable” by ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
That’s just another intriguing storyline to watch as we move closer to training camp, the preseason, and finally the regular season.
Uche Called ‘Unblockable’ by One Patriots Analyst
CLNS’ Evan Lazar loves what he saw from Uche in the early stages of camp. He called him “unblockable without pads.”
Lazar gave more specifics about what he observed below:
It’s hard to put much stock in pass-rush reps without pads, but Uche is a blur off the ball. He tested Trent Brown on a speed rush early in practice and then smoked rookie tackle Will Sherman during 11-on-11s with a “ghost” move where he fakes a punch and dips underneath to turn the corner. If Uche is this good once the pads go on, watch out for the year two breakout.
The Boston Globe’s Jim McBride observed and noted:
Hightower, Van Noy, Judon, and Uche stood out at several points during the practice and likely would have registered a number of sacks. This could be New England’s scariest bunch of pass rushers in a number of seasons (apologies to the Boogiemen of years past).
McBride specifically noted Uche’s explosiveness, which is still sometimes impeded by his lack of experience:
“Uche’s speed off the edge is eye-catching. The linebacker did run a penalty lap for jumping offside once.”
At this point in his development, those mistakes are acceptable.
If there is a young player on either side of the ball seemingly poised to explode in 2021, it is Uche.