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Patriots News July 25, Training Camp Primer – Linebackers

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
July 25, 2021 at 5:00 am ET

Patriots News July 25, Training Camp Primer – Linebackers(PHOTO: David Butler II - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 9 minutes

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 7-25, by this time next week, we will be talking about the first days of training camp.

Be sure to check out our early 53-man roster projection as we’ll be adjusting it as time goes on and training camp begins.

Have you checked out our team news feature for all 32 teams yet? It is a great resource to keep up with what is going on all across the NFL. 

 Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL: 

David Wells: The Patriots are welcoming back the tight end, signing him to a contract on the eve of camp. If you’re having trouble remembering this Wells, don’t feel bad. He spent about a week on the Patriots practice squad before being released. 

He’s strictly a blocking tight end/special teams player. With the additions that they’ve made at tight end, Wells’ prospects at making the roster appear pretty slim. When one thinks of the name “David Wells”, however, my mind races back to the excellent left-handed pitcher who played two seasons for the Red Sox and had some great years with the Yankees.

Matt Damon/Tom Brady: The famous actor from Boston who is a diehard Boston sports fan made no secret of his love for Tom Brady. Damon appeared on the Bill Simmons podcast and was asked about Brady.

“It’s not even a bandwagon, I love Tom… I was always a believer”  Damon said. He added that he watched every one of the Bucs games in 2020, and will be with Brady until the end of his career, hoping that Brady gets one more Super Bowl win before hanging it up. 

Pats Work Out Two Players: With the roster already at the 90-man limit, the Patriots worked out a couple of players, offensive lineman Spencer Pulley and defensive back Brian Cole II on Friday, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss. 

Pulley, 28, has played in 49 games, making 26 starts over the last three seasons for the Chargers and Giants. Cole II, 24, a 6’2, 205-pound defensive back spent the 2020 season on the Dolphins’ practice squad. 

Patriots Place Eight on PUP: With training camp slated to begin this week, the Patriots placed CB Stephon Gilmore, OLB Chase Winovich, QB Jarrett Stidham, LB Terez Hall, DT Byron Cowart, ST/LB Brandon King, TE Dalton Keene, and WR Devin Smith on the PUP. They can come off the PUP at any time.

4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Our latest was our 10th-anniversary episode, where we welcomed back our former co-host Damien as well as our owner, Ian Logue, who we’ve been trying to get on the podcast for 10 years…perseverance paid off.

Russ Francis/ Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Kyle Van Noy returns to the Patriots and brings the versatility that the defense needs. USA Today photo

Training Camp Primer – Linebackers/Edge

The Patriots’ front seven took a huge step back last year, the run defense especially was gashed badly. Earlier this week we took at the defensive line, and now we will look at the linebackers and edge players, who were also a disappointment. 

Part of the reason was the loss of so much depth. Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts were all gone by the early spring. Compounding matters further was the opting out of Dont’a Hightower. That was the vast majority of the snaps in 2019, so…as a result, Bill Belichick had to do what he rarely does. He went with a lineup heavy on youth and inexperience. And the results spoke for themselves. 

But if there was a silver lining, the young players got a lot more experience than they normally would have experienced. And much like the defensive line, the linebacker edge position has been retooled and reloaded. Van Noy returns after a year’s absence in Miami. Hightower returns after a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19. The team brought in Matthew Judon, Raekwon McMillan, and Harvey Langi in free agency. Then added Ronnie Perkins and Cameron McGrone in the draft. 

A look at the roster now reveals a much deeper, eclectic mix of youth and experience with some playmakers who can be difference makers. 

Current Roster: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Matthew Judon, Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins, Terez Hall, Raekwon McMillan, Harvey Langi, Cameron McGrone, Tashawn Bower

Roster Locks Edge: Matthew Judon, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins
Roster Locks Off the Ball Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche

Discussion: Again, one of the worst positional groupings in 2020, now becomes a position of strength. Van Noy has always fit best in New England, and while he isn’t considered an NFL star, he is here, much like Hightower. The pair played a big part in winning two Super Bowls on the Patriots’ defense. 

Adding Judon to the mix is intriguing as he’ll be a matchup the Patriots’ defense will want to move around and create havoc. So, let’s take a closer look at the players.

Dont’a Hightower – When people ask me, “who is the Patriots’ biggest addition this offseason?”, I’m hard-pressed, NOT to say, Hightower. His presence was missed both on and off the field, and his football I.Q. is why he’s been the quarterback of the defense. 

He’s always elevated his game as the stakes got bigger and saved his best for the biggest of games. He’s big and devastating against the run. And he can get after the QB in a variety of blitzes off the edge or up the A gaps. 

Kyle Van Noy – After a year in Miami, the Patriots welcome back a player who has been invaluable in their system. The team missed his rushing off the edge, as well as setting the edge in the running game. 

Having him and Hightower back opens up all sorts of possibilities for the Patriots’ defense. He can line up next to Hightower inside or move outside with Judon and allow one of the other players to move inside. He’s versatile, valuable, and he’s back.

Matthew Judon is one of the guys at the beginning of free agency who I believed had little chance of finding himself in Foxboro. But the Patriots paid out big bucks (four years, $56 million, with $32 million guaranteed) for the very versatile Judon. 

It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the prevailing attribute so many of these new additions share is that Belichickian versatility that they can all do multiple things. It allows the coaches to mix, match and find vulnerabilities of the opposition. Judon has lined up in an array of different positions. 

Adding him to Hightower and Van Noy at the linebacker position is a very exciting prospect for Patriots fans. He’s excited to play for Belichick and other than Hightower, he is the most valuable member of the front seven. 

Josh Uche seems primed for a big Year 2 jump. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Uche didn’t play a ton of snaps as a rookie, he had some lost time due to injuries and his inexperience resulted in a diminished workload. But when he was on the field, his ability to get after the QB was very good, as the coaches just unleashed him and let him use his athletic gifts. 

Now in Year 2, he’s expected to make a big jump in play, not only getting after the QB but in coverage and in stopping the run. Early reports from the spring, albeit without pads were saying he was flying all over the field. 

Chase Winovich is an intriguing case. After a strong rookie campaign, he had a very up and down 2020 and found himself at times in the doghouse with Belichick. There were rumors of him being shopped around, with Pittsburgh especially, but he’s still here although he’ll begin training camp on PUP. 

With the additions of some of the above-mentioned players, Winovich may find himself as a third-down pass rusher. That will play to his strengths and look for him to play with his hair on fire. 

Anfernee Jennings is another versatile player, and as a rookie was asked to do a variety of things, something that Belichick normally doesn’t task to rookies. He played both on defense and special teams, which should increase in Year 2. 

Jennings is a good strong side (SAM) linebacker who sets the edge very well in the running game and can push the pocket as a pass rusher. 

Ronnie Perkins has a ton of upside, the rookie draft pick out of Oklahoma, has plenty of tools to work with. During training camp, the coaches will see what he does well and what he needs to work on. With the added depth this season, we may not see a ton of Perkins on the field, I wouldn’t take that as a negative, that’s just the normal progression of learning the defense. His versatility and his high motor will garner him some work, it will be intriguing to watch him in the preseason. It is a preview of what we’ll see more of in 2022. 

Ja’Whaun Bentley had a rough go of it in 2020. With the aforementioned losses in free agency and Hightower’s opt out, a ton was dropped on Bentley’s plate and he was overwhelmed at times. Although voted a captain, the coaches took away the green dot about a month after the season began in an attempt to take some of the pressure off of him. 

Bentley is a big physical, downhill type of player who has struggled in coverage. With him in the last year of his contract, he could find himself trying to hold off the next two players for his backup to Hightower at the MIKE. 

Raekwon McMillan was an under-the-radar signing from the Raiders and was one of my favorite college players when he was with the Buckeyes. He had 102 tackles a couple of seasons ago with Miami but saw his snaps decrease a ton last year with Las Vegas. 

McMillan offers a stout run defense in the middle with much better athleticism and the ability to play a key role on special teams, which could earn him a spot on the roster if the team decides to move on from Bentley. 

Terez Hall was forced into a big role last year and although proved to be a capable run-stuffer, was a liability in coverage after he was activated off the practice squad. He fits that similar mold the Patriots like in their inside linebackers 6’2, 240 with good athletic ability. An improvement in his coverage skills could also have him pushing Bentley in the middle.

Harvey Langi is back for a second go-round with the Patriots after playing some quality snaps with the Jets. A look at the roster says he’s a long shot to make the roster, but he heard that here as a UDFA. His special team’s play could help him earn a spot if some injuries occur. 

Tashawn Bower was activated off the practice squad and got to play some decent snaps at the tail end of the 2020 season. But his play didn’t stand out and he’ll need a big training camp/preseason to make the roster. 

Cameron McGrone saw his draft stock plummet after a late-season ACL injury at Michigan. But the Patriots saw what his future could look like and they drafted him with 2022 in mind. He’ll learn the system and get healthy and get a red-shirt year. 

The 6th rounder did make it on the field this spring but we’ll have to see if he’s ready for contact this week once camp begins. 

Chase Winovich gets after DeShaun Watson in 2020. Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

OL Coach Cole Popovich Out as NFL Plays COVID Hardball:

The Patriots’ co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich is no longer on the coaching staff for reasons related to the league’s COVID-19 requirements, NFL Network’s Mike Giardi reported on Friday.

Carmen Bricillo will be the only offensive line coach on the team this season. Popovich is the second offensive line coach to lose his position on Friday after the Vikings Rick Dennison refused to receive a COVID-19 vaccination and was leaving the team.

The NFL had issued a statement back in April that any unvaccinated Tier 1 staff member needed to provide a valid religious or medical reason for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Without Tier 1 status, coaches cannot be on the field, in meeting rooms, or have any direct interactions with players.

Although players aren’t required to get the vaccine, the league is pursuing strict protocols and has laid down some serious potential ramifications if unvaccinated players contract the virus, which leads to an outbreak on a team. 

In this scenario, a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players could result in a forfeit. “We do not anticipate adding a 19th week to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the NFL said in a released statement. The team suffering an outbreak due to COVID will suffer a forfeit and be credited with a loss. 

While players on both teams will not be paid for the lost contest, the team responsible for the canceled game due to unvaccinated players will cover financial losses, be responsible for reimbursing the opposing team for travel, hotels, and be subject to potential discipline from the Commissioner’s office.

While publicly stating that the league isn’t mandating that all players and coaches be vaccinated, the NFL is thus about to take a harsh stand on any outbreaks occurring during the 2021 season. 

“If a game is canceled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection,” the NFL said in its memo. 

“We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.”

So, outbreaks with vaccinated players and coaches will be handled differently and no adverse actions taken …supposedly.

NFL Network reported that all 32 teams have at least a 50 percent vaccination rate, 14 percent of the teams have an 85 percent vaccination rate and more than 78 percent of the players have had at least one shot. 


“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.


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Patriots 2021 Training Camp Primer – Cornerbacks

About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: 53 Man Roster Projection Anfernee Jennings Bill Belichick Cameron McGrone Chase Winovich Dont'a Hightower Harvey Langi Ja'Whaun Bentley Josh Uche Kyle Van Noy Matthew Judon New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots linebackers Raekwon McMillan Ronnie Perkins Tashawn Bower Terez Hall

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