BOSTON (CBS) — The change at quarterback is drawing much of the attention with the New England Patriots, and rightfully so. Going from Tom Brady to Cam Newton is quite the drastic change in Foxboro.
But there is another position that is undergoing even more massive reconstruction: Linebacker. The Patriots lost both Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency, and after Dont’a Hightower opted out amid COVID-19 concerns, New England now finds themselves without any of its starting linebackers from last season.
That’s not ideal for a team that was supposed to have its defense lead the charge. Hightower has been one of the team’s defensive leaders for nearly a decade. He was the quarterback of that side of the ball, wearing the green dot on his helmet and receiving plays from the sideline to relay to the rest of the defense. His loss, along with that of playmakers Van Noy and Collins, is a monumental one not just on the defense, but the team as a whole.
Enter third-year linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. Buried on the team’s depth chart in 2019, Bentley will now be thrust into a leadership role that he served for three years at Purdue. Chatting with reporters on Wednesday, Bentley said he’s handled green dot duties before, and is willing to do anything and everything Bill Belichick asks of him in 2020.
“Everybody has a role to play. If that’s what mine would be, I would have to do that and do it very well,” said Bentley.
That green dot also carries the lofty expectations to lead the linebacking corps.
“I have been here and we have a lot of new guys, so you have to step into whatever role fits you best. I am a big advocate for not forcing a leadership role — Leadership finds you” he said. “It finds you and you react with that. You never force the leadership position, you let it happen. I am a big fan of that and right now, with meeting our guys, we’re able to connect and build relationships with everybody.”
Like it not, that leadership role is Bentley’s in 2020. After appearing in just two games as a rookie, he played in all 16 last season (starting two), and now he’s the elder statesman of a linebacking corps that includes rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.
Bentley has Hightower on his speed dial when questions arise during the season, and he added that he’s always tried to learn a little something from everyone he’s shared the field with throughout his football career.
“You’re always picking their brains and seeing different things you can bring to your game. That’s been my approach since Day 1, whether it was college or the pros, stuff I can steal – so to speak – to bring to my game,” said Bentley.
There is no replacing Hightower, one of the most important members of the Patriots since he was drafted in 2012. But despite all the changeover at the position, Bentley sounds confident that New England’s linebackers will do their job in the New England defense.
“We have a lot of great talent. Shoutout to Jamie and High, all those guys. Obviously you respect the decision that Hightower made, he had no choice but to do that. But, nonetheless we have to come in here and try and work,” he said. “We have to work, we have to figure out our roles. We have to keep pushing forward.”