Behind Enemy Lines: Versatility Key for Patriots LBs Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings

Getting to know the Miami Dolphins' Week 1 opponent, New England
75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

Bill Belichick has an ever-growing list of catch phrases and clichés from his time running the show in New England.

One of those, in particular, that would seem to pertain to a number of young Patriots players, including rookie linebackers Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.

"The more you can do…"

The second-round pick Uche and third-rounder Jennings come from Michigan and Alabama, respectively, with unique, variable skills sets. Uche (6-3, 226) is a perceived pass rusher by nature who’s spent more time at inside linebacker this summer. Jennings (6-3, 259) was a more multi-talented edge presence for Nick Saban with strength stopping the run.

Given the offseason free agent departures of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts, as well as the coronavirus opt-out of Dont’a Hightower, the two rookies will be given every chance to contribute right away to open their NFL careers. More accurately, they may need to contribute right away.

So far, Patriots outside linebackers coach and 2019 part-time defensive play-caller Steve Belichick has been impressed with his young pupils and their varied skills.

“Those guys have been great,” Belichick said. “They’ve been doing everything we ask them to do. We ask a lot of our players in terms of versatility and being able to handle multiple roles. They are obviously very different players, comparing those two. But they do a lot, they’ve done everything we’ve asked. It’s been great working them. They work hard in the meetings trying to pick up everything that we’ve put on their plate, so I’ve really enjoyed it. They’ve spent time working inside, working outside, covering, rushing. Everything that we ask our linebackers to do we’ve tried to put on their plate and we’ll see what they can handle.”

Their ability to handle what’s been thrown at them, starting back in virtual WebEx meetings back in the spring and into hands-on work this summer, has apparently been incrementally impressive.

“Ton of progress,” Belichick said. “They came along every day. They’ve been improving every day. They have a long way to go but they’ve been doing great and coming along just fine. I’m really happy with both those guys.”

Head coach Bill Belichick also has made note of what Uche and Jennings might be able to do on the New England front that’s always been multiple in nature over the years and relies on players with the ability to fill different roles.

“I think any role that we put anybody into at this point is, is going to be done with…. we'll have to see how it goes. Those players do have a good degree of flexibility,” Belichick acknowledged of Uche and Jennings. “They showed that in college and they’ve shown that here in camp.
How it actually plays out, obviously remains to be seen. We'll have a plan, we'll have an idea of how we think it will go, or the areas that we, we want to use them and that may change from week to week and so forth.”