The Patriots begin training camp in just a few days and once that starts we’ll have football back with us until the winter and snow return with a vengeance. Hard to picture that right now with the heat index pushing 110.
Last year at this time, there were a lot of questions at the linebacker position. This season it is considered a position of strength heading into the 2019 season. The three main starters return, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts. The team also gets back last year’s promising rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley who played very well all summer and began the season getting a lot of quality reps before getting injured and ending up on IR.
Another rookie from last season, Christian Sam, who spent the entire season on IR returns. Brandon King is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart but is essentially a special teams player only.
But the big surprise was in bringing back former Patriot Jamie Collins. It seemed like those bridges were burned when he was traded to Cleveland but the team added him back this spring. Collins was one of the better players on the field for the Patriots during OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp. Shilique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, and Terez Hall round out the players at the position.
Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25. And be sure to keep up with our coverage from training camp.
So, let’s take a look at the position as it unfolds as training camp begins this summer.
Current roster – Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins, Christian Sam, Brandon King, Shalique Calhoun, Calvin Munson, Terez Hall
Locks – Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, Collins
Near Locks – Roberts, King
Bubble – Sam, Calhoun
Long Shot – Munson, Hall
Discussion – With the return of their three main starters from the Super Bowl, the team is going to be looking very similar in 2019. Hightower, Van Noy, Bentley, and Collins are all locks for the roster in 2019.
Hightower stayed healthy last year and played very well. What is a factor to be especially optimistic about is that it always seems Hightower saves his best plays and his best games for times when the games matter most and in the playoffs. He’s a fixture on this defense and what we’ve stated here many times rings true about him. Is he a perennial league All-Pro? No, but in the Patriots defense, he is.
Van Noy has blossomed in New England and is arguably one of their bigger chess pieces on the defensive side. He was even better than Hightower during the playoffs and despite what some talk-radio folks would have you believe, he’s a playmaker and one of the leaders of this defense.
Bentley had a fantastic summer followed by a pretty impressive start to his career before getting injured early last season and ended up on IR. It is interesting to wonder how his development would have played out last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt. But he’s healthy now and should vie for plenty of work.
Collins is the wild card here. With an already solid cast around him, it will be interesting to see how the team decides to use him once the season starts. Collins was all over the field this spring, if the Patriots can find a way to showcase his talents with the cast already in place, he could be in line for a very solid season.
Roberts has been up and down in his career but had a very solid 2018. Consistency is the key for him. In mentioning the defensive line yesterday, we said that they may be better suited for a 3-4 than the 4-3. Roberts and Bentley could definitely benefit from that as well. Being an ILB in a 3-4, it would lend itself well to Roberts, downhill, run-thumping style. It would also create plenty of opportunities to move Hightower and Van Noy around, inside and outside and give them more chances to make plays.
King is technically (by the depth chart) a linebacker, but to my knowledge hasn’t played any time there. He is, however, a very solid, dependable special teams’ player. While maybe not a lock for the 53 per se, knocking him out of there will take a very big effort from someone beneath him on the team’s overall roster. Or him having an awful camp. Other than that, we’d expect to see him come September.
Christian Sam is a 2nd-year outside linebacker who never got to show what he can do last year, ending up on IR out of training camp. His value is a total unknown and he’ll have some work to do this summer. He’ll have to show he can contribute on special teams right away and then flash some ability on defense. Calhoun is a newcomer to New England but has been in the league for a while. Can the journeyman find himself a home and a role in New England? It has been done before, so he’s not a write off by any means but also has a lot of work to do.
Munson spent last year on the Patriots practice squad, so they like what they’ve seen from him. Hall is a real long shot and will have to flash big time on STs in order to stick. He and Munson are candidates for the practice squad.
So, entering 2019, the linebacker position, which was one full of questions a year ago, enters this year as a position of strength. There should be no movement at the top unless of injury, so there may be only one or two spots that are open for competition. But watching to see how the Patriots and new linebacker coach Jerod Mayo plans on using his troops this year will make camp another must-see event daily.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]